Biodiversity Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3

Biodiversity Status, Trends and Indicators

  • The 1996 State of the Environment Report
  • Indicators of biodiversity
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    The 1996 State of the Environment Report

    The 1996 Report (SoE 1996) was motivated by a commitment to ecological sustainability and a concern for Australia's biodiversity. It outlined over 50 major issues of concern for biodiversity and its conservation including 11 key issues that were identified as threats to biodiversity (Table 3).

    Table 3: The 11 key issues identified in SoE (1996) as threats to biodiversity
    The detail and comments are also from the 1996 report and mostly still apply in 2001.
    Issue Detail Comment
    Effects of human population and consumption The overwhelming causes of the decline in Australia's biodiversity result from the human population, their lifestyles, technologies and demands on natural resources The situation continues to deteriorate as population and demands on natural resources increase
    Condition of ecosystems Most terrestrial freshwater and marine ecosystems are altered in structure and function to some extent Few ecosystems remain in a largely natural condition. The situation is deteriorating
    Distribution and abundance of species Many species are undescribed or poorly studied; of those that are described, many are lost or threatened The loss of and decline in species continues and is cause for national concern
    Changes in genetic diversity Little is known for most species, although there is strong evidence of loss of genetic diversity for some While the degree of genetic diversity is unclear, it is almost certainly declining
    Land clearance and related activities Land clearing destroys and modifies ecosystems thus threatening biodiversity. The past extent and continuing rate vary greatly between states and territories This is the single largest threat to biodiversity. The situation is deteriorating as threatening activities continue
    Effects of introduced species Most terrestrial freshwater and marine ecosystems are affected or threatened, as are many native species Effects have often been severe and the situation continues to deteriorate
    Harvesting native species Some species have been and are being overexploited. There are detrimental effects on habitat and non-target species Harvesting of native species is an important pressure on biodiversity in some areas. The situation is deteriorating
    Lack of knowledge of biodiversity This affects ability to develop strategies for achieving sustainable production without further detrimental effects on biodiversity The knowledge base, while still inadequate, is slowly improving
    Effectiveness of conservation measures outside reserves Most biodiversity will continue to rely on areas outside the system of conservation parks and reserves Better integration of management approaches in the local regional and national spheres is required
    Adequacy of protected areas The number and extent of protected areas is increasing but nature conservation is generally a residual land use in agricultural districts Some ecosystems and species are represented well, others poorly
    Adoption of integrated ecosystem-based management of natural resources This is necessary for achieving sustainable production without further detrimental changes in biodiversity Bioregional management requirements are partially recognised but enormous efforts are still required to fully develop and implement them

    An explicit purpose of environmental reporting is to allow tracking of changes over time, particularly from one report to the next. This section compares some of the findings of the 2001 Report with those of SoE (1996).

    The threats to biodiversity identified in SoE (1996) (Table 3) are presented here in further detail (Table 4). Many ecosystems and species are threatened by human activities such as habitat clearance and modification and the invasion of systems by exotic organisms. Genetic diversity is also threatened although the nature and detail of genetic diversity loss is most poorly documented. At the general level, SoE (1996) stated that 'to balance conservation of biodiversity, human population growth and economic development' would require 'substantial changes in the way that land and oceans are managed'. Clearly between 1996 and 2001, an expectation of 'substantial' change would be likely to be disappointed. Mostly we do not yet fully understand what such changes entail. This Report shows that there have been both encouraging signs of improvement and evidence of both lack of progress or emerging and as yet poorly addressed issues.