National context for the conservation fate of Victoria's mammal fauna.
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 (http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/ 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 ).
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.
Abbott I (2006) Mammalian faunal collapse in Western Australia, 1875-1925: the hypothesised role of epizootic disease and a conceptual model of its origin, introduction, transmission, and spread. Australian Zoologist 33, 530-561.
Anon (2013) Back from the brink: an update on our endangered mammal populations. Wildlife Matters Summer 2012/13, 10-11.
Armstrong DP, Hayward MW, Moro D and Seddon PJ (2015) (Eds) Advances in reintroduction biology of Australian and New Zealand fauna. (CSIRO Publishing: Clayton South)
Bilney RJ (2014) Poor historical data drive conservation complacency: the case of mammal decline in south-eastern Australian forests. Austral Ecology 39, 875-886.
Bilney RJ, Cooke R and White JG (2010) Underestimated and severe: small mammal decline from the forests of southeastern Australia since European settlement, as revealed by a top-order predator. Biological Conservation 143, 52-59.
Burbidge A, Johnson K, Fuller P and Southgate R (1988) Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the Central Deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 15, 9-39.
Burbidge AA and McKenzie NL (1989) Patterns in the modern decline of Western Australia's vertebrate fauna: causes and conservation implications. Biological Conservation 50, 143-198.
Burbidge AA, McKenzie NL, Brennan KEC, Woinarski JCZ, Dickman CR, Baynes A, Gordon G, Menkhorst PW and Robinson AC (2008) Conservation status and biogeography of Australia's terrestrial mammals. Australian Journal of Zoology 56, 411-422.
Butchart SHM, Walpole M, Collen B, van Strien A, Scharlemann JPW, Almond REA, Baillie JEM, Bomhard B, Brown
C, Bruno J, Carpenter KE, Carr GM, Chanson J, Chenery AM, Csirke J, Davidson NC, Dentener F, Foster M, Galli A, Galloway JN, Genovesi P, Gregory RD, Hockings M, Kapos V, Lamarque J-F, Leverington F, Loh J, McGeoch mA, McRae L, Minasyan A, Morcillo MH, Oldfield TEE, Pauly D, Quader S, Revenga C, Sauer JR, Skolnik B, Spear
D, Stanwell-Smith D, Stuart SN, Symes A, Tierney M, Tyrrell TD, Vie J-C and Watson R (2010) Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328, 1164-1168.
Cardillo M, Mace GM, Jones KE, Bielby J, Bininda-Emonds ORP, Sechrest W, Orme CDL and Purvis A (2005) Multiple causes of high extinction risk in large mammal species. Science 309, 1239-1241.
Cramb J and Hocknull S (2010) New Quaternary records of Conilurus (Rodentia: Muridae) from eastern and northern Australia with the description of a new species. Zootaxa 2634, 41-56.
Eldridge D and James A (2009) Soil-disturbance by native animals plays a critical role in maintaining healthy Australian landscapes. Ecological Management & Restoration 10, S27-S34.
Finlayson HH (1935) The Red Centre: man and beast in the heart of Australia. (Angus & Robertson: Sydney)
Finlayson HH (1961) On central Australian mammals. IV. The distribution and status of central Australian species. Records of the South Australian Museum 14, 141-191.
Fleming PA, Anderson H, Prendergast AS, Bretz MR, Valentine LE and Hardy GE (2014) Is the loss of Australian digging mammals contributing to a deterioration in ecosystem function? Mammal Review 44, 94-108.
Gillen JS, Hamilton R, Low WA and Creagh C (2000) (Eds) Biodiversity and the Re-introduction of Native Fauna at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. (Bureau of Rural Sciences: Kingston)
Hanna E and Cardillo M (2013) A comparison of current and reconstructed historic geographic range sizes as predictors of extinction risk in Australian mammals. Biological Conservation 158, 196-204.
Hoffmann M, Belant JL, Chanson JS, Cox NA, Lamoreux J, Rodrigues ASL, Schipper J and Stuart SN (2011) The changing fates of the world's mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366, 2598-2610.
Homan P and Schultz N (2012) Further records of mammal and reptile fauna from the Black Range, near Stawell and the Grampians National Park, Western Victoria. The Victorian Naturalist 129, 36-45.
Johnson CN and Isaac JL (2009) Body mass and extinction risk in Australian marsupials: the 'Critical Weight Range' revisited. Austral Ecology 34, 35-40.
McGregor HW, Legge S, Jones ME and Johnson CN (2014) Landscape management of fire and grazing regimes alters the fine-scale habitat utilisation by feral cats. PLoS ONE 9, e109097.
McKenzie NL, Burbidge AA, Baynes A, Brereton RN, Dickman CR, Gordon G, Gibson LA, Menkhorst PW, Robinson AC, Williams MR and Woinarski JCZ (2007) Analysis of factors implicated in the recent decline of Australia's mammal fauna. Journal of Biogeography 34, 597-611.
Menkhorst PW (1995) (Ed.) Mammals of Victoria: distribution, ecology and conservation. (Oxford University Press: Melbourne)
Peacock D and Abbott I (2014) When the 'native cat' would 'plague': historical hyperabundance in the quoll (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae) and an assessment of the role of disease, cats and foxes in its curtailment. Australian Journal of Zoology 62, 294-344.
Schipper J, Chanson JS, Chiozza F, Cox NA, Hoffmann M, Katariya V, Lamoreux J, Rodrigues ASL, Stuart SN, Temple HJ, Baillie J, Boitani L, T.E.Jr. L, Mittermeier RA, Smith At, Absolon D, Aguiar JM, Amori G, Bakkour N, Baldi R, Berridge RJ, Bielby J, Black PA, Blanc JJ, Brooks TM, Burton JA, Butynski TM, Catullo G, Chapman R, Cokeliss Z, Collen B, Conroy J, Cooke JG, da Fonseca GAB, Derocher AE, Dublin HT, Duckworth JW, Emmons L, Emslie RH, Festa-Bianchet M, Foster M, Foster S, Garshelis DL, Gates C, Gimenez-Dixon M, Gonzalez S, Gonzalez-Maya JF, Good TC, Hammerson G, Hammond PS, Happold D, Happold M, Hare J, Harris RB, Hawkins CE, Haywood M, Heaney LR, Hedges S, Helgen KM, Hilton-Taylor C, Hussain SA, Ishii N, Jefferson TA, Jenkins RKB, Johnston CH, Keith M, Kingdon J, Knox DH, Kovacs KM, Langhammer P, Leus K, Lewison R, Lichtenstein G, Lowry LF, Macavoy Z, Mace GM, Mallon DP, Masi M, McKnight MW, Medellin RA, Medici P, Mills G, Moehlman PD, Molur S, Mora A, Nowell K, Oates JF, Olech W, Oliver WRL, Oprea M, Patterson BD, Perrin WF, Polidoro BA, Pollock C, Powel A, Protas Y, Racey P, Ragle J, Ramani P, Rathbun G, Reeves RR, Reilly SB, Reynolds JEI, Rondinini C, Rosell-Ambal RG, Rulli M, Rylands AB, Savini S, Schank CJ, Sechrest W, Self-Sullivan C, Shoemaker A, Sillero-Zubiri C, De Silva N, Smith DE, Srinivasulu C, Stephenson PJ, van Strien N, Talukdar BK, Taylor BL, Timmins R, Tirira DG, Tognelli MF, Tsytsulina K, Veiga LM, Vie J-C, Williamson EA, Wyatt SA, Xie Y and Young BE (2008) The status of the World's land and marine mammals: diversity, threat, and knowledge. Science 322, 225-230.
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2014) Global Biodiversity Outlook 4. (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Montreal)
Start AN, Burbidge AA, McDowell MC and McKenzie NL (2012) The status of non-volant mammals along a rainfall gradient in the south-west Kimberley, Western Australia. Australian Mammalogy 34, 36-48.
Woinarski JCZ, Burbidge AA and Harrison PL (2014) The Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012. (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne)
Woinarski JCZ, Burbidge AA and Harrison PL (2015) The ongoing unravelling of a continental fauna: decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 15, 4531-4540.
Woinarski JCZ, Legge S, Fitzsimons JA, Traill BJ, Burbidge AA, Fisher A, Firth RSC, Gordon IJ, Griffiths AD, Johnson CN, McKenzie NL, Palmer C, Radford I, Rankmore B, Ritchie EG, Ward S and Ziembicki M (2011) The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response. Conservation Letters 4, 192-201.
Ziembicki MR, Woinarski JCZ and Mackey B (2013) Evaluating the status of species using Indigenous knowledge: Novel evidence for major native mammal declines in northern Australia. Biological Conservation 157, 78-92.
Ziembicki MR, Woinarski JCZ, Webb JK, Vanderduys E, Tuft K, Smith J, Ritchie EG, Reardon TB, Radford IJ, Preece N, Perry J, Murphy BP, McGregor H, Legge S, Leahy L, Lawes MJ, Kanowski J, Johnson CN, James A, Griffiths AD, Gillespie G, Frank A, Fisher A and Burbidge AA (2015) Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia. Therya 6, 169-225.
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: John.Woinarski@cdu.edu.au
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 australis 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 shortridgei Extant in Victoria; 54 considered not threatened
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Woinarski, John C.Z.|
|Publication:||The Victorian Naturalist|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Mammals of Victoria symposium: 28 February 2015-1 March 2015.|
|Next Article:||The conservation of mammals in Victoria's roadsides.|