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National context for the conservation fate of Victoria's mammal fauna.

Our world has fewer species now than in the previous generation. Biodiversity is declining at a fast rate world-wide (Butchart et al. 2010; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity 2014), and this rate will continue to increase with ongoing climate change, increasing human population, increasing resource use and decreasing extent of suitable habitat. Mammal species have suffered a particularly high rate of loss, with 76 species (1.4% of the world's ca. 5500 mammal species) rendered extinct over the past ca. 500 years, and 21% now considered threatened (Schipper et al. 2008; Hoffmann et al. 2011). Larger land mammal species, and particularly larger predators, have suffered a disproportionately high rate of loss, partly because many of these have been hunted, because they typically require large home ranges and/or because many have relatively small population sizes (Cardillo et al. 2005).

The fate of Australia's highly distinctive terrestrial mammal fauna is atypical of global patterns. A recent review concluded that Australia has lost 29 (or perhaps 30, if the Christmas Island Shrew Crocidura trichura, last seen in 1985, is considered extinct) of its 272 endemic land mammal species (i.e. 11% loss), an eight-fold higher rate of extinctions than that experienced globally (Woinarski et al. 2014, 2015). A further 54 endemic land mammal species (22% of the extant Australian species) are now considered threatened (Woinarski et al. 2014).

The rate of loss of Australian mammals is unusual globally; and so is the pattern of loss. Australia's small and medium-sized mammals (broadly in the range 35 g to 5 kg) have suffered the most extinctions and extensive declines, whereas larger mammal species have been comparatively little affected (Burbidge and McKenzie 1989; McKenzie et al. 2007; Johnson and Isaac 2009). Furthermore, while much of the decline in the world's mammals (and biodiversity generally) is in areas exposed to the most intensive development pressure, the decline of Australia's mammals has been almost ubiquitous across the mainland, with, for example, high rates of decline and extinction even in the most remote and little modified deserts (Finlayson 1935, 1961;

Burbidge et al. 2008). Whereas many of the world's extinct species had very small ranges or small populations or were highly specialised, many now-extinct Australian mammals had extensive distributions (covering more than one million [km.sup.2]) and broad habitat ranges and were very abundant immediately before European settlement of Australia (Hanna and Cardillo 2013).

The loss of many Australian mammal species was so remarkably rapid that they were almost unreported, and scientific knowledge that they existed is almost serendipitous. Several now extinct species were reported in life from five or fewer records (e.g. Desert Bettong Bettongia anhydra, Central Hare-wallaby (Kuluwarri) Lagorchestes asomatus, Short-tailed Hoppingmouse Notomys amplus, Darling Downs Hopping-mouse N. mordax, Blue-grey Mouse Pseudomys glaucus). Other species, most likely present at the time of European settlement, were never recorded as live specimens, but are known now from subfossil deposits (e.g. Nullarbor Dwarf Bettong Bettongia pusilla, Capricorn Rabbit-rat Conilurus capricornensis, Broad-cheeked Hopping-mouse Notomys robustus) (Cramb and Hocknull 2010): some of these are still undescribed (Start et al. 2012). Most likely, some species present at the time of European settlement have left no trace, or at least no trace yet discovered. Even for extant species, changes were very rapid, such that our knowledge of these species based on their present-day distribution, abundance and habitat preferences may be a markedly distorted perception of their previous status and ecology; and we may need to re-think substantially our understanding of what constitutes baseline Australian mammal assemblages and ecology (Bilney et al. 2010; Bilney 2014).

Part of the reason for the atypical nature of Australian mammal loss is that the main factors that have driven the loss are notably different from those for other continents. Whereas losses of mammals elsewhere in the world are due mostly to habitat loss and hunting, the main factors that have driven mammal decline in Australia have been introduced predators (the Red Fox Vulpes vulpes and feral Cat Felis catus) and changed fire regimes (Woinarski et al. 2014, 2015). Of course, many other factors also may be implicated for some Australian mammal species. Notably, disease may have had a substantial role, although direct evidence is frustratingly limited (Abbott 2006; Peacock and Abbott 2014). Furthermore, it is difficult now to decipher causes of decline for many now extinct species; and it is also increasingly clear that many threats may have operated synergistically (Woinarski et al. 2011; McGregor et al. 2014; Ziembicki et al. 2015).

The decline and loss of Australian mammals is not a phenomenon of the past. Notwithstanding Australia's reasonably good environmental legislation, comprehensive and substantial conservation reserve system, affluent status, constraints on hunting and the absence or low level of some other pressures, many Australian mammal species continue to decline (Woinarski et al. 2015). Indeed, two Australian endemic mammal species--the Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi and Bramble Cay Melomys Melomys rubicola--have become extinct since 2009.

But perhaps these recent extinctions mark a watershed, and there may be hope that the outlook for the future of the Australian mammal fauna is rosier than its past. To a large extent, it was these recent losses that catalysed the development of Australia's first national threatened species strategy, released in July 2015 ( threatened/publications/strategy-home). That strategy includes a commitment by Australia's Minister for the Environment to attempt to stop any further avoidable extinctions. Furthermore, the distinctive nature of the main threats-- introduced predators and changed fire regimes --that have caused mammal losses in Australia, actually offers some hope: these factors may be more controllable than those factors (such as extensive habitat loss) that have most affected biodiversity elsewhere in the world. Indeed, over the past few decades, there are now many compelling examples of the local recovery of threatened Australian mammal species at sites where feral predators have been effectively controlled (mostly through exclusion fencing, translocation to predator-free islands, use of guardian dogs, or intensive and sustained baiting) (Anon 2013; Armstrong et al. 2015). These programs require substantial and ongoing investment, but in many cases their outcomes have been impressive. They allow us to gain a perspective of life on this continent as it was before the shock of European settlement and its accompanying threats, and to realise that we have become accustomed to a wildlife array that is much depleted. These examples demonstrate that, for many threatened mammal species, recovery is possible and worthwhile; and that it is not an unreasonable objective to seek to reverse the historic and current pervasive trend for decline: to restore much of the Australian mammal fauna.

Such restoration of threatened mammals is a worthy goal in itself, but it also has significant collateral benefits. Many mammal species that now exist in much diminished numbers and range perform ecologically pivotal roles, mostly through turning over the soil, dispersing seeds and creating burrows used by other wildlife species (Eldridge and James 2009; Fleming et al. 2014). The return of these species will help restore the ecological health of degraded landscapes. Also, many threatened mammal species were formerly significant in indigenous culture, and their loss over large areas contributed to the erosion of that culture, and to a feeling of failed responsibility for the health of country (Burbidge et al. 1988; Ziembicki et al. 2013). Several reintroductions of threatened mammals in Australia have been initiated and greatly celebrated by indigenous land-owners, demonstrating a deep spiritual connection to, and responsibility for, wildlife that should be instructive to all Australians (Gillen et al. 2000).

The conservation fate and future of the Victorian mammal fauna is broadly representative of Australia generally. The period from European settlement to the present has been catastrophic for Victoria's native land mammals. Many species were extirpated (Menkhorst 1995). Of 91 land mammal species present at the onset of European settlement, 19 species are no longer present in Victoria (a 21% loss), and 11 extant species are now considered threatened (12% of the original mammal fauna or 15% of the extant mammal fauna) (Table 1). Some species, such as the Brush-tailed Rockwallaby Petrogale penicillata, Leadbeater's Possum Gymnobelideus leadbeateri, New Holland Mouse Pseudomys novaehollandiae, Smoky Mouse P fumeus and Broad-toothed Rat Mastacomys fuscus, are now vulnerable and--on current trends or because of their now very small population or highly limited range --may become extinct in Victoria within a few decades.

However, increasingly we know what factors are causing the decline of these species, and managers have the capability to address these threats effectively. But capability is not necessarily the same thing as reality, for the control of these threats may require considerable and sustained investment. For example, only a minute proportion of Victoria is managed to exclude introduced predators (such as Mt Rothwell sanctuary and the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne Annexe), indicating the current mismatch between our capability to restore threatened mammals and the reality of that restoration. However, to be fair, and to recognise improvement and effort, increasingly large areas of the State are subject to sustained predator control programs (such as Glenelg Ark and Southern Ark: Homan and Schultz [2012]).

The fate of Victoria's mammal fauna should not be constrained to palliative care for the most imperilled. Given enhanced capability and willingness to control introduced predators and other threats, there is also realistic opportunity to return to Victoria a substantial suite of native mammals that were extirpated here, but happily survived elsewhere (14 species: Table 1). Plausible candidates for reintroduction include the Eastern Bettong Bettongia gaimardi, Woylie Bettongia penicillata, Tasmanian Pademelon Thylogale billardieri, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata, Eastern Quoll Dasyurus viverrinus, and--perhaps more controversially --Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii. There is a future for the Victorian mammal fauna; and our society can choose to redress much of the detriment that this fauna has suffered and to make its future brighter than its past.


I thank Andrew Burbidge and Peter Harrison, who co-authored our recent national assessment of the conservation status of Australian mammals. I am grateful to the symposium organisers for inviting this contribution.


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Received 30 July 2015; accepterd 24 March 2016

John CZ Woinarski

Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Programme

Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, 0831. Email:
Table 1. The conservation fate of Victorian land mammals. Victorian
species list follows Menkhorst (1995) with some taxonomic updates.
Status-as either extinct, extirpated in Victoria (but extant
elsewhere) and extant in Victoria--also follows Menkhorst (1995).
Conservation status (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable,
Near Threatened or not threatened) is that assigned nationally by
Woinarski et al. (2014): it does not necessarily correspond to the
formal listing at state or national level. The 54 native mammal
species not considered threatened are not listed.

Status                No. of species   Species

Extinct                     5          Pig-footed Bandicoot Chaeropus
                                       ecaudatus; Eastern
                                       Hare-wallaby Lagorchestes
                                       leporides; Toolache Wallaby
                                       Macropus greyi; White-footed
                                       Rabbit-rat Conilurus albipes;
                                       Lesser Stick-nest Rat
                                       Leporillus apicalis

Extirpated                  14         Chuditch (Western Quoll)
in Victoria                            Dasyurus geoffroii; Eastern
                                       Quoll Dasyurus viverrinus;
                                       Red-tailed Phascogale
                                       Phascogale calura; Golden
                                       Bandicoot Isoodon auratus;
                                       Western Barred Bandicoot
                                       Perameles bougainville; Rufous
                                       Bettong Aepyprymnus rufescens;
                                       Eastern Bettong Bettongia
                                       gaimardi; Woylie Bettongia
                                       penicillata; Tasmanian
                                       Pademelon Thylogale
                                       billardieri; Bridled Nailtail
                                       Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata;
                                       Greater Stick-nest Rat
                                       Leporillus conditor; Bolams
                                       Mouse Pseudomys bolami; Desert
                                       Mouse Pseudomys desertor;
                                       Plains Mouse Pseudomys

Extant in Victoria;         11         Critically Endangered:
considered                             Mountain Pygmy-possum Burramys
threatened                             parvus; Lead beater's Possum
                                       Gymnobelideus leadbeateri;
                                       Vulnerable: Eastern Barred
                                       Bandicoot Perameles gunnii;
                                       Koala Phascolarctos cinereus;
                                       (Southern) Greater Glider
                                       Petauroides volans;
                                       Long-footed Potoroo Potorous
                                       longipes; Brush-tailed
                                       Rock-wallaby Petrogale
                                       penicillata; Grey- headed
                                       Flying-fox Pteropus
                                       poliocephalus; South-eastern
                                       Long-eared Bat Nyctophilus
                                       corbeni; Smoky Mouse Pseudomys
                                       fumeus; New Holland Mouse
                                       Pseudomys novaehollandiae

Extant in Victoria;         7          Platypus Ornithorhynchus
considered Near                        anatinus; Spotted-tailed Quoll
Threatened                             Dasyurus macula tus;
                                       Brush-tailed Phascogale
                                       Phascogale tapoatafa;
                                       Yellow-bellied Glider Petaurus
                                       australis; Long-nosed Potoroo
                                       Potorous tridactylus; Broad-
                                       toothed Rat Mastacomys fuscus;
                                       Heath Mouse Pseudomys

Extant in Victoria;         54
considered not
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Title Annotation:Contributions
Author:Woinarski, John C.Z.
Publication:The Victorian Naturalist
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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