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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Environment

LAND AND BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity (or biological diversity) is the variety of all life forms on earth – the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems of which they form a part. Biodiversity is constantly changing; it is increased by genetic change and evolution and reduced by processes such as habitat degradation and species extinction.

Australia's biodiversity is unique and globally significant, with Australia being home to many endemic species of plants and animals. Australia is recognised as one of only 17 'mega-diverse' countries, with ecosystems of exceptional variety and uniqueness. This group of mega-diverse countries covers less than 10% of the global surface, but supports more than 70% of the earth's biological diversity.

Loss of biodiversity is considered by some as Australia's most serious environmental threat. Habitat degradation resulting from human activity has put many species at risk, with the clearance of native vegetation a significant threat to biodiversity. Other threats include deterioration of soil and water quality, increased dryland salinity, the spread of weeds and feral pests, and climate change. Although land clearing has continued, in 2009 the extent of forest land conversion was about one-third (32%) of the 1990 level (graph 2.16).

2.16 LAND USE CHANGE, Forest conversion and reclearing(a)(



THREATENED SPECIES

The Australian Government administers biodiversity conservation through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act). This environmental legislation provides a framework and advice to protect and manage important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places. The EPBC Act classifies listed threatened species into six categories: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and conservation dependent.

Since the commencement of the EPBC Act in July 2000, the number of listed threatened fauna species has increased by 41% from 315 to 444 (graph 2.17). The number of endangered fauna species rose by 51% between 2000 and 2011, while the number of vulnerable fauna species increased by 23%. In November 2011, nearly half (45%) of the 121 mammals listed as threatened were classified as vulnerable, nearly a third (32%) were more seriously threatened (endangered and critically endangered) and the remainder were presumed extinct (table 2.18).

These increases may reflect taxonomic revisions and improved reporting in conservation status and do not necessarily mean a change in the conservation status of the fauna.

2.17 Threatened fauna species



Table 2.18 shows that in 2011, 98 species of Australian flora and fauna were listed as extinct, while 1,687 species and 30 ecological communities were listed as endangered or vulnerable under the EPBC Act. An ecological community is a naturally occurring and unique group of plants and animals.


2.18 THREATENED SPECIES AND ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITIES, Australia—2011

Extinct
Extinct in the wild
Critically endangered
Endangered
Vulnerable
Conservation dependent
Total
Native species
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

Fauna
Fish
1
4
16
26
4
51
Frogs
4
2
15
12
33
Reptiles
4
16
37
57
Birds
23
6
44
61
134
Mammals
27
4
35
55
121
Other animals
1
20
17
10
48
Total Fauna
55
1
40
143
201
4
444
Flora
42
118
530
651
1 341
Total species
97
1
158
673
852
4
1 785
Ecological communities
18
11
1
30

— nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
Source: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.


PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS

Although Australia's biodiversity continues to be threatened by many factors, measures have been put in place to protect native flora and fauna. One such measure is a system of protected areas (the Natural Reserve System) that is dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and natural and cultural resources. The development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System is the responsibility of the Australian, state and territory governments as part of Australia's obligation under the United Nations Biodiversity Convention, established in 1993.

Most national parks and other protected areas in Australia are declared and managed by state and territory governments, although some protected areas are managed by conservation or other groups. Declaration and management of Indigenous Protected Areas – land owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that is managed to protect its natural and associated cultural values – began in 1998.

The area of conservation reserves in each state and territory is recorded in the Collaborative Australian Protected Areas Database (CAPAD) using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification system of protected areas. The classification system comprises seven categories based on the main (or primary) management intent of protected areas.

From 2006 to 2008, Australia's terrestrial protected areas increased by more than 8.9 million hectares and now extend across 98.5 million hectares or 13% of Australia’s total area. Table 2.19 shows the area of protected land in each category in 2008. Included in the 98.5 million hectares is 20.6 million hectares of Indigenous Protected Areas. These areas are actively managed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owners and rangers to protect biodiversity by controlling weeds, feral animals and bushfires, along with visitor impacts.


2.19 TERRESTRIAL PROTECTED AREAS, Australia—2008

Area
Proportion(a)
IUCN categoryPrimary management intent
no.
'000 ha
%

IAStrict nature reserve: managed mainly for science
2 491
22 008
2.9
IBWilderness area
66
4 159
0.5
IINational park: ecosystem conservation and recreation
1 000
39 868
5.2
IIINational monument: conservation of specific natural features
2 333
1 649
0.2
IVHabitat/species management
2 190
4 220
0.6
VProtected landscape/seascape
218
1 017
0.1
VIManaged resource protected area
1 042
25 566
3.3
Total
9 340(b)
98 487(c)
12.8

(a) Proportion of the total land area of Australia, 768,826,956 ha.
(b) Includes 25 Indigenous Protected Areas.
(c) Includes Indigenous Protected Areas of 20,592,227 ha.

Source: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.


The area protected for National parks (category II) increased by nearly 11 million hectares between 2002 and 2008 to encompass 5% of the total land area of Australia by 2008 (graph 2.20).

2.20 PROTECTED AREAS, As a percentage of Australia-2002-2008



The Australian Government's Caring for our Country Program aims to expand the area protected within the National Reserve System to at least 125 million hectares by 2013 and expand Indigenous Protected Areas by between 8 and 16 million hectares. In addition, the programs aim to increase native habitat by at least one million hectares and reduce the impact of cane toads, camels, rodents, rabbits and weeds.


INVASIVE SPECIES

An invasive species is a non-indigenous species with an adverse impact on the habitats that it invades. Invasive species threaten valued environmental, agricultural or other resources through the damage they cause. Invasive species include feral animals, non-native invertebrates and introduced weeds. They can threaten native species, contribute to land degradation and reduce agricultural productivity.

The cost of weeds to Australian agriculture (impact and control costs) has been estimated at more than $3.4 billion annually (Caring for our Country, Business Plan 2009–2010). ABS data for 2006–07 show that farmers spent $1.6 billion controlling and preventing weeds, which was more than for other pests ($768m) and land and soil problems ($649m) combined (graph 2.21). Weed management activities also proved very time consuming, with agricultural businesses undertaking, on average, 31 person days of effort on these activities in 2006–07. In comparison, 26 and 23 days were spent on managing pests and land and soil problems, respectively.

2.21 Farm expenditure on natural resource management - 2006-07



Weeds of National Significance is an agreed list of 20 problem weeds used as a guide for a co-ordinated national effort for addressing weed problems (table 2.22). Selection of these species was made by the Australian Government and all state and territory governments in 1999, based on environmental damage and economic impacts.


2.22 WEEDS OF NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE

State/territory in which weed found
Common name
NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT

Alligator Weed
X
X
X
X
Athel Pine
X
X
X
X
X
X
Bitou Bush/Boneseed(a)
X
X
X
X
X
X
Blackberry
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
Bridal Creeper
X
X
X
X
X
X
Cabomba
X
X
X
X
Chilean Needle Grass
X
X
X
X
X
Gorse
X
X
X
X
X
X
Hymenachne
X
X
Lantana
X
X
X
X
X
X
Mesquite
X
X
X
X
X
Mimosa
X
X
Parkinsonia
X
X
X
X
X
Parthenium Weed
X
X
X
Pond Apple
X
Prickly Acacia
X
X
X
X
Rubber Vine
X
X
Salvinia
X
X
X
X
X
X
Serrated Tussock
X
X
X
X
Willows(b)
X
X
X
X
X
X

(a) For the purposes of this list, the two taxa are treated as one.
(b) Willows except Weeping Willow, Pussy Willow and Sterile Pussy Willow.

Source: <
http://www.weeds.gov.au/weeds/lists/wons.html>.


Some invasive pests were deliberately introduced to Australia, while others were accidentally imported. Table 2.23 lists the major introduced pest species of concern.

The cane toad is an example of a feral animal. It was introduced into Australia as a biological control against cane beetles that destroy sugarcane crops, but failed to control the cane beetles and became a major pest itself. Cane toads eat mainly insects, but also frogs, small mammals and snakes. Additionally, because they are poisonous, cane toads kill many animals that prey on them including goannas, quolls and birds. They are still spreading across Australia, migrating both west and south.

Feral deer are an emerging problem. Expanding and invading populations are damaging natural environments and agriculture. Deer were introduced from Europe for hunting in the 19th century.

Through biological control, European wasp numbers have been reduced to manageable levels since 1989 by the introduction of a small parasitic wasp (Spechophaga vesparum). The introduction followed rigorous testing to ensure that this wasp only attacks the European wasp.


2.23 INVASIVE INTRODUCED PESTS OF CONCERN

CategoryInvasive species/disease common nameScientific or disease name

Diseases, fungi, and parasites
Beak and feather diseasePsittacine circoviral
Amphibian chytrid fungus diseaseChytridiomycosis
Mundulla yellows (not attributable to a specific organism)
Root-rot fungusPhytopthora cinnamomi
Myrtle rustUredo rangelii
Feral animals
Cane toadBufo marinus
European wild rabbitOryctolagus cuniculus
European red foxVulpes vulpes
Feral camelCamelus dromedarius
Feral catFelis catus
Feral goatCapra hircus
Feral horseEquus caballus
Feral donkeyEquus asinus
Feral pigSus scrofa
Feral water buffaloBubalus bubalis
Insects
European waspsVespula germanica
Feral honeybeesApis mellifera
Red fire antSolenopsis invicta
Yellow crazy antAnoplolepis gracilipes
Tramp ant (six species)

Source: <http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/index.html>.

 

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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.

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