The Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s six-year research program was completed in 2021. For more information see our about page.
Habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity, and it affects common and threatened species alike. However, metrics for communicating its impacts typically overlook the nonthreatened component of assemblages. This risks the loss of habitat going unreported for species that comprise the majority of assemblages. We adapted a widely used measure for summarizing researcher output (the h index) to provide a metric that describes natural habitat loss for entire assemblages, inclusive of threatened and nonthreatened species. For each of 447 Australian native terrestrial bird species, we combined information on their association with broad vegetation groups with distributional range maps to identify the difference between the estimated pre‐European and current extents of potential habitat, defined as vegetation groups most closely associated with each species. From this, we calculated the loss index (LI), which revealed that 30% of native birds have each lost at least 30% of their potential natural habitat (LI = 30). At the subcontinental scale, LIs ranged from 15 in arid Australia to 61 in the highly transformed southeastern part of the country. Different subcomponents of the assemblage had different LI values. For example, Australia's parrots (n = 52 species) had an LI of 38, whereas raptors (n = 32 species) had an LI of 25. The LI is simple to calculate and can be determined using readily available spatial information on species distributions, native vegetation associations, and human impacts on natural land cover. This metric, including the curves used to deduce it, could complement other biodiversity indices if it is used for regional and global biodiversity assessments that compare the status of natural habitat extent for assemblages within and among nations, monitor changes through time, and forecast future changes to guide strategic land‐use planning. The LI is an intuitive tool that can be used to summarize and communicate how human actions affect whole assemblages, not just threatened species.