birding-aus extinction predictions

Subject: birding-aus extinction predictions
From: Barry Traill <>
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 09:17:23
Dear all,

Prof. Harry Recher has recently published a paper in Aust Zoologist on his
opinions on likely trends in Australian bird populations.  It makes for
some sobering reading- unless we change how we look after habitat Harry
predicts we will lose half of our species in the next hundred years.  

In case it's of interest I have included the abstract of the paper below.
I'm happy to email the full text to anyone who would like it- please email
me directly at 


Barry Traill

The state of Australia's avifauna: a personal opinion and prediction for
the new millennium

Harry F. Recher, School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University,
Joondalup, W.A. 6027 (email: 


A consequence of the European colonisation of Australia has been a
significant loss of biodiversity: one in four mammal species is either
extinct or threatened. In contrast, only one species of bird has been lost
from the Australian continent and there is less concern for the survival of
the Australian avifauna than for mammals. This is despite the fact that
nearly one in five bird species is listed as threatened or of 'special
concern'. Moreover, a review of the status of Australian birds at local,
regional, state and continental scales shows that the impact of Europeans
on the avifauna is much greater than acknowledged. Over most of southern
Australia entire avifaunas are threatened with extinction. When allowance
is made for habitat loss and degradation, 30 to 90 % of bird species across
the continent have declined in abundance. The extent of this decline is
that the survival of many bird species in the 21st Century is threatened.
While a majority of birds in southern Australia have declined in abundance
and/or distribution, others have increased. Parallel changes are proceeding
in northern Australia. In terms of evaluating impact on the avifauna, an
increase in numbers and a change in the composition of avian communities
are as significant as the loss of populations and species.  Both adversely
affect patterns of continental biodiversity and are ecologically
        Assuming that current trends continue, over the next century, 
components of the avifauna will be lost as populations proceed to
extinction and the composition of avifaunas change at scales ranging from
the local to the continental. The pattern of change in avian abundances,
and the failure to anticipate or acknowledge the major losses of birds on
the Australian continent, shows that conservation emphasis needs to shift
from a species by species approach to the conservation of communities and
entire avifaunas. Taken together, the scale of the changes in the
distribution and abundance of Australian birds is an affirmation that
present and projected patterns of human use of the Australian continent are
not sustainable. Much needs to be done to reverse the decline of the
terrestrial avifauna and achieve ecological sustainability in land use. The
most urgent actions are to end the clearing of native vegetation, reduce
grazing pressure, remove inappropriate fire regimes, control feral and
native animals whose abundance threatens native species, and restore
functional ecosystems, with an emphasis on native vegetation, to a minimum
of 30 % of the landscape. These need to be accompanied by an aggressive
program to improve water quality in fresh water habitats and restore
environmental water flows, and the creation of a comprehensive, adequate
and representative reserve system across the continent irrespective of land
tenure. In the absence of such action, I predict that Australia will lose
half of its terrestrial bird species in the next century.

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