Where the blame belongs
FERAL predators and introduced diseases have done more damage to Australia’s biodiversity than land clearing, fire or habitat loss, and it’s time the environmental movement joined farmers in pressuring the government for better quarantine laws, a new report says.
The study’s author, biologist and writer Tim Low, said green groups that put all their efforts into trying to halt environmental degradation would get more benefit per dollar spent from worrying about stopping the next lantana or cane toad as well.
“Australians think they’ve got the world’s best quarantine system, but really it’s a disaster in slow motion,” Mr Low said.
“The conservation movement should be talking more about quarantine, even if that means saying a bit less about habitat loss.”
He pointed to the recent discoveries of myrtle rust (affecting trees) and white spot disease (at prawn farms) and said the Asian black-spined toad (a possible cold-climate cane toad) had been spotted in Australia.
“There’s a widespread misconception habitat loss is causing most extinctions in Australia, but evidence doesn’t back that up,” Mr Low said.
He has recently produced a soon-to-be-released report for the Invasive Species Council showing that feral animals and introduced diseases pose a greater threat to Australia’s most vulnerable native wildlife than do most other factors.
The 20-page document, entitled “Invasive Species: a leading threat to Australia’s wildlife”, obtained by The Weekend Australian, summarises the work of dozens of authors.
It shows that introduced feral animals, weeds and diseases pose a severe risk to more than three-quarters of all amphibian, mammal and bird species on the threatened species list and to more than half of all types of threatened plants, fish and reptiles.
Australia has lost more mammal species than any other country; feral cats and foxes are considered mostly to blame.
The study points to only one extinct animal (the toolache wallaby) for which habitat loss is considered the primary driver of its demise.
Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said the danger was “not just ongoing, it is increasing”.
“The size of the threat is far bigger than what most people had believed.
“It is largely invisible and slow moving.
“As a result, government responses have been poor and often misguided, long after it is too late,” he said.