Three Tasmanian birds perch atop the list of Australia’s most threatened birds, as revealed by a TSR Hub team comprising researchers from Charles Darwin
University and The University of Melbourne.
“The Orange-bellied Parrot tops the list, closely followed by two subspecies from King Island – the King Island Scrubtit and the Brown Thornbill,” says project leader Professor Stephen Garnett.
The research team is finalising the list of Australia’s most threatened birds and mammals through a combination of scientific modelling and the distillation of expert opinion – adopting a process proven to be more accurate than deferring to the judgement of a lone researcher.
“For each group we first analyse a suite of characteristics such as population size and trends, the intensity of the threatening processes and the size of the areas they occupy using three models – each of which emphasises different aspects of a species’ biology when predicting extinction,” Professor Garnett says.
“We can then confirm whether or not these models agree. If they don’t agree, we need to determine why.”
This is where expert opinion enters the equation. Threatened species experts are asked to estimate the likely risk of a particular species’ extinction and provide an indication of the confidence they hold in their estimate.
Where experts uncover discrepancies in their analysis, they are encouraged to debate those differences whilst collaborating on a final prediction.
“Modelling alone cannot always provide the answer, nor can expert opinion, but when combined we can reach the best answer attainable,” Professor Garnett says.
Preliminary results obtained through this process clearly indicate the high risk of extinction to several Tasmanian bird species.
Protecting the Orange-bellied Parrot is already a key focus of another TSR Hub research project (Project 2.2), which aims to mitigate the threats faced by Tasmania’s hollow-nesting birds.
In addition to the species from Tasmania, one surprise inclusion on the list was a subspecies of Painted Buttonquail, which now inhabits only two small islands of the Houtman Abrolhos off the coast of Western Australia.
The Buttonquail population declined following the introduction of wallabies to one of the three islands that once formed the Buttonquails’ historical range, as the wallabies dramatically reduced the available vegetation.
“We were alerted to the plight of the Buttonquail by the Chair of the Western Australian Threatened Species Committee, Andrew Burbidge, and we shall do what we can to help him garner support for rapid action,” says Professor Garnett.
The research conducted forms part of the TSR Hub’s Project 2.1, which aims to provide direction to government agencies and non-government by alerting them to cases of imminent extinction.
Image: Orange-bellied Parrot by DPIPWE
Many landscapes in Australia are fire-prone, and increasingly so. Altered fire regimes can have a serious negative impact on threatened plant species and ecological communities. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project is working to better understand the effects of different fire regimes on threatened flora in order to improve fire management strategies and conservation outcomes.
Almost a quarter of Australia’s possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law, and many more are showing signs of decline. Dr Rochelle Steven from The University of Queensland believes people in the community can do a lot to support conservation, especially in urban areas.
The detection and monitoring of threatened species have been a strong area of research in the National Environmental Science Program and also the two national environmental research programs which preceded it. Hub Director Professor Brendan Wintle takes a look at what we’ve been achieving and why it is so important to the conservation of Australia’s threatened species.
In 2009, the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko were headed for imminent extinction. Parks Australia acted quickly to collect remaining wild individuals in order to establish captive breeding programs on Christmas Island and at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, which have been highly successful. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project team is working closely with Parks Australia to help secure a future for the two lizards beyond captivity.
The silver-headed antechinus and black-tailed dusky antechinus are carnivorous marsupials found in high-elevation forests in parts of central-eastern and south-eastern Queensland. They were only described in the past six years, but they are already listed as Endangered. Knowing where they occur is essential for effective conservation, but current distribution knowledge is patchy. To address this, PhD candidate Stephane Batista in partnership with the Queensland Herbarium and Queensland Department of Environment and Science is modelling the habitat where these threatened species are likely to occur, and is using detection dogs to rapidly survey these sites.