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 Issues and Challenges (continued)

Protecting Biodiversity (continued)

Species diversity

  • Species richness
  • Number of subspecies as a percentage of species
  • Endemism
  • Vulnerable, endangered, threatened or extinct species
  • The conservation status of marine species
  • Recovery plans: Securing species and communities in the wild
  • Looking after species away from their homes
  • Species of economic importance
  • Species known to be changing significantly in distribution
  • Number, distribution and abundance of migratory species
  • Demographic characteristics of target taxa
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    Species richness [BD Indicators 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 and 10.4]

    The most recent estimate of global species richness (Lawton & May 1995) puts the total number between five and seven million species globally, with an upper limit of perhaps 15 million species. Estimates of the total number of species in Australia vary considerably. SoE (1996) reported around one million species, whereas Horwitz et al. (1999) believe that it is likely to exceed ten million. These figures demonstrate the large gaps in knowledge about even the number of species found in Australia.

    The ABRS provided the most recent summary of our knowledge of species diversity in Australia (summarised in Table 46). Only a few vertebrate groups are thought to be fully described: frogs, birds, lizards, snakes, birds, mammals and lancelets. Consequently there are very few examples where the number of species is believed to be the final total. Table 46 also provides the most recent estimate of the number of species formally described.

    Table 46: The estimated total number and percentage of species described in Australia and the percentage of endemic species for various taxa
    Taxonomic group Estimated number of species described [BD Indicator 10.3] Estimated total number of species [BD Indicators 10.1 and 10.2] Estimated percentage described (as at 2000) [BD Indicator 10.4] Endemic (%)
    Prokaryota (Bacteria)
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Protoctistae (Unicellular organisms)
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Fungi (other than lichens) ~12 500 ~250 000 ~5 90
    Lichens 2 877 ~5 000 ~60 Unknown
    Plantae (Plants)
    Vascular plants (flowering plants, cycads, conifers, ferns and fern allies) 15 638 20 000 to 25 000 ~70 85
    Algae 5 000 10 000 to 12 000 ~45 Unknown
    Bryophyta (mosses and allies) 1 500 ~2 500 ~60 Unknown
    Total Australian flora (plants and fungi) ~25 000 ~290 000 ~9 -
    Animalia (Animals)
    Porifera (sponges) 1 416 ~3 500 ~40 Unknown
    Cnidaria (corals, anemonies, jellyfish) 1 270 ~1 760 ~70 Unknown
    Platyhelminthes (flatworms, parasites) 1 506 ~10 800 ~14 Unknown
    Acanthocephala (thorny-headed worms) 57 ~160 ~35 Unknown
    Nematoda (roundworms, threadworms) 2 060 30 000 ~7 Unknown
    Mollusca (squid, octopus, mussels, clams, snails) 9 336 ~12 250 ~75 90
    Annelida (ringed worms, earthworms) 2 125 ~4 230 ~50 Unknown
    Onychophora (velvet worms) 56 ~56 ~100 Unknown
    Crustacea (crayfish, crabs, prawns etc.) 6 426 ~9 500 ~70 Unknown
    Arachnida (spiders, mites etc.) 5 666 ~27 960 ~20 Unknown
    Insecta (insects) 58 532 ~83 860 ~70 90
    Echinodermata (starfish, echinoderms etc.) 1 206 ~1 400 ~85 Unknown
    Other invertebrates 2 929 ~7 230 ~35 Unknown
    Tunicata (sea squirts, doliolids, salps) 536 ~735 ~70 Unknown
    Cephalochordata (lancelets) 8 ~8 ~100 Unknown
    Agnatha (lampreys, hagfishes, slime eels) 5 ~10 ~50 Unknown
    Pisces (fish) 4 150 ~5 250 ~80 90
    Amphibia (frogs) 176 ~176 ~100 93
    Reptilia (snakes, lizards) 633 ~633 ~100 89
    Aves (birds) 825 ~825 ~100 45
    Mammalia (mammals) 369 ~369 ~100 83
    Total Australian fauna 99 287 ~200 000 ~50% -

    Source: Data on species numbers, collected by the ABRS. Data on endemic species compiled from: Office of the Chief Scientist (1992); Anderson (1994); Mummery & Hardy (1995); Scott et al. (1997); Burgman & Lindenmayer (1998); WCMC (2000); T. May (pers. comm.).

    For most groups, particularly the invertebrates, there are still large gaps in our knowledge. This makes it difficult to estimate the total number of species and, therefore, the percentage of number of species described in each group. Based on the figures provided in Table 46, however, for many groups it is estimated that more than 50% of species remain to be described. Estimates of the number of some marine species is thought to be out by three-fold to five-fold. For example, in 1974 there were over 1300 sponge species recorded in Australia but there could be up to 5000 (Chris Battershill, pers. comm.). With the advent of molecular taxonomic techniques, the figure is also likely to be an underestimate. For some groups such as cryptograms, there is not even agreement on what the accepted species are, and hence no list is available of the number of species that have been described.

    Of the groups that are described, certain taxa in Australia contain a globally significant number of species (e.g. reptiles, ants, lichens), as do certain regions (e.g. Great Barrier Reef, wet tropics, south-west corner). Australia has a rich and unique assemblage of vertebrates and vascular plants. By world standards, the number of freshwater fish species in Australia is low (Table 47), reflecting the small amount of freshwater habitat.

    Table 47: A global comparison of the number of freshwater fish species
    Continent No. of freshwater fish species
    South America 2 200
    Africa 1 800
    Asia 1 500
    North America 950
    Central America 354
    Europe 250
    Australia 170
    New Zealand 27

    The value for Asia is probably an underestimate because of relatively little taxonomy and few surveys.

    Source: Banister (1992).

    The importance and dominance of invertebrates as a component of biodiversity, and their role in ecosystem functioning is well documented (Ponder & Lunney 1999). The overwhelming number of species and the lack of fundamental taxonomic activity is regarded as being the major impediment to effective invertebrate conservation in Australia and throughout the world. Estimates of total numbers of invertebrate species are inherently unreliable because of the lack of relatively complete taxonomies for the most species-rich taxa. Recher and Majer (1996) (based on a study where they sampled 1600 invertebrate species on four different species of eucalypt) estimated that around 250 000 species of just one group of terrestrial invertebrates would be found in association with the genus Eucalyptus. In contrast, Yen and Butcher (1997) estimated that in total there were around 300 000 species of non-marine invertebrates, of which less than 100 000 are described. Whatever the number, invertebrates make a major contribution to species diversity in Australia (Ponder & Lunney 1999). With the exception of a few charismatic groups, most notably the butterflies, there is very little biological or ecological knowledge of these species.

    Many fungi spend most of their life cycle in microscopic form, hidden from view in the soil, until they emerge after rain to release spores and begin a new generation

    Many fungi spend most of their life cycle in microscopic form, hidden from view in the soil, until they emerge after rain to release spores and begin a new generation.

    Source: JJ Bruhl, University of New England

    Microorganisms (see The fascinating world of microbial biodiversity), are also an important component of species richness in Australia and can have utilitarian and indirect values in both marine and terrestrial systems. Very little is known about these organisms, although estimates have been made of the species richness and endemism of fungi (Table 46), based largely on their visible fruiting bodies. To illustrate their diversity, May and Simpson (1997) estimated that the approximately 700 species of eucalypts in Australia are likely to have about 7000 species of associated fungi.

    Even less is known about other microorganisms. For example, so little is known about bacterial diversity in Australia that even an estimate of the total number is unavailable. However, recent studies are starting to shed some light: Gordon and Fitzgibbon (1999) identified 90 species of bacteria in 20 genera in the gastrointestinal tract of Australian mammals. As with invertebrates, these and other microorganisms are poorly studied and are usually underrepresented in species lists and biological surveys. The number of plant species present at a site can also be underrepresented if surveys of the soil seed bank are not undertaken. For example, a recent study in the wheat belt of Western Australia found that at some sites over 50% of native plant species were detected only as seeds in the soil.

    The fascinating world of microbial biodiversity

    The microbial world encompasses a large proportion of life forms, broadly including any organism that spends all or most of its life in microscopic form. Microorganisms therefore include viruses, single-celled algae, bacteria, archaea (a specialised form of bacteria that are important in decay processes, especially in wetlands), protozoa and fungi, and in the broadest sense, microscopic invertebrates such as nematodes and mites. During the 1990s, it has become increasingly apparent that our knowledge of biodiversity in the microbial world is largely inadequate. More than 99% of microorganisms are yet to be discovered or described (Amman et al. 1995; Head et al. 1998; Hugenholtz et al. 1998). Understanding the roles of these unknown organisms is likely to be essential to understanding and monitoring biodiversity, since they occupy key positions in all ecosystems. The prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) as a group contain roughly equivalent quantities of organic carbon as plants, and may hold up to 10 times more phosphorus and nitrogen than do plants (Whitman et al. 1998). Similarly, in terrestrial ecosystems, the biomass of fungi exceeds all other groups except vascular plants (Lal 1995). Microorganisms perform key ecosystem services such as nitrogen fixation, carbon cycling and the regulation of atmospheric gases. A recent attempt to value the world's ecosystem services arrived at a value of US$33 trillion per year (Costanza et al. 1997). Categories of these services that are mainly, or partly provided by microorganisms (nutrient cycling, waste treatment/degradation, atmospheric gas regulation, erosion control, soil formation, biological control and food production) amount to over 70% of this total value.

    A further area where we lack adequate understanding of microbial biodiversity is in the associations between microbial life and larger organisms. Almost all macroorganisms depend on microbial symbioses to some extent. Microorganisms contribute significantly to the conservation and production of nutrients in the vertebrate gastrointestinal tract (reviewed in Stevens & Hume 1998). Investigations of the microbiota associated with native Australian animals are only just beginning. Around 75% of vascular plants form mutualistic associations with mycorrhizal fungi. Although the composition and type of plant species in a terrestrial ecosystem is a primary determinant of ecosystem productivity and sustainability (Tilman et al. 1996; Hooper and Vitousek 1997), plant biodiversity may in turn be primarily regulated by the diversity of mycorrhizal fungi (Read 1998; van der Heijden et al. 1998). Consequently, fungal diversity may indirectly control both ecosystem productivity and variability (Read 1998; van der Heijden et al. 1998). Fungal endophytes also occur in the leaves and stems of vascular plants, and the extent and importance of this form of mutualism is receiving more attention. In Australia, 95% of ectomycorrhizal fungi are novel, with some 22 genera and 3 families being endemic (Castellano & Bougher 1994). Thus, Australian fungi are likely to be as unique as our animal and plant species. A similar situation occurs in the mutualistic association between nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria and legumes, which in Australia represent about 10% of plant species. A survey of native shrubby legumes recovered 21 genomic rhizobial species, only one of which corresponded to a known species (Lafay & Burdon 1998).

    Because of their large biomass, extraordinary genetic diversity and their central roles in many ecosystem processes, the characterisation of microbial biodiversity should be a consideration in any biodiversity assessment. However, the systematic investigation of microbial diversity in Australia has been the subject of few studies, and methods for rapid assessment of the distribution and abundance of microorganisms are still being developed (Liesack & Stackebrandt 1992; Holmes et al. 2000). The conservation of microbial diversity has not yet received the attention given to larger organisms, and indeed there is only one mention of the word 'microorganism' in the body of the CBD (Davison et al. 1999).

    Source: Mike Gilling, Macquarie University.

    Number of subspecies as a percentage of species [BD Indicator 10.5]

    Information to report on this indicator is unavailable.

    Endemism [BD Indicator 10.6]

    A taxon (e.g. a species) is considered endemic to a particular area if it occurs only in that area. The proportion of vertebrate taxa in Australia that are endemic is particularly high compared to other countries, with the richness of vertebrate species being largely as a result of a remarkable variety of reptiles. Because of its size, age and geological and evolutionary isolation, over 80% of mammal, reptile and flowering plant species in Australia are also endemic (Table 46). The degree of endemism in fungi, molluscs and insects is also estimated to be over 80%, and as such, the Australian continent is recognised as a centre of endemism of global significance (Major 1988). While the level of endemism of many taxonomic groups is still unknown, it is likely to be high because of Australia's evolutionary and geological history.

    Since the concept of endemism is tied to particular areas, the identification of centres of endemism is dependent on scale (Crisp et al. 2001). At a global level, high levels of species richness and endemism are consistent across most taxonomic groups in Australia and in most environments (e.g. reef and coral fishes; Table 48). Areas of high endemism also occur within regions in the Australian continent. For example, about 5% of Australia's flora occurs in the Stirling Ranges of south-west Australia, an isolated mountain range with some unique ecological characteristics. The high level of vascular plant endemism in this region is evident also at the global level. In a worldwide study, Myers (1988, 1990) identified 18 relatively small areas that are rich in endemic vascular plant species and that are experiencing relatively rapid rates of habitat modification or loss (Table 49). The only region in Australia on this list is the south-west of the continent. These 18 sites contain about 50 000 endemic plant species (20% of the world's total) in about 750 000 square kilometres (0.5% of the earth's surface area).

    Table 48: A global comparison of the number of fish and coral species associated with coral reefs
    Coral reef No. of fish species No. of coral species
    Great Barrier Reef 2 000 500
    New Caledonia 1 000 300
    French Polynesia 800 168
    Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef) 750 139
    Society Islands 633 120
    Toliara (Madagascar) 552 147
    Aqaba 400 150
    Moorea (Society Islands) 280 48
    St Gilles (Runion) 258 120
    Tutia Reef (Tanzania) 192 52
    Tadjoura (Djibouti) 180 65
    Baie Possession (Runion) 109 54
    Kuwait 85 23
    Hermitage (Runion) 81 30

    Source: after Harmelin-Vivien (1989), in Banister (1992).

    Table 49: Numbers of endemic plant species in 18 regions exhibiting high levels of plant species richness and endemism
    Of the total, 14 regions may be classified as tropical rainforest, and four (italic) have Mediterranean type climates. Of these, the only region in Australia is found in the south-west of the continent.
    Region Numbers of endemic vascular
    plant species
    Cape region (South Africa) 6 000
    Upland west Amazonia 5 000
    Atlantic coastal Brazil 5 000
    Madagascar 4 900
    Philippines 3 700
    North Borneo 3 500
    Eastern Himalaya 3 500
    South-west Australia 2 830
    Western Ecuador 2 500
    Colombian Choc 2 500
    Malaysian Peninsula 2 400
    California 2 140
    Western Ghats (India) 1 600
    Central Chile 1 450
    New Caledonia 1 400
    Eastern Arc Mountains (Tanzania) 535
    South-west Sri Lanka 500
    South-west Cte d'Ivoire 200

    Source: after Myers (1988, 1990) and Burgman and Lindenmayer (1998).

    Several different patterns of endemism have been observed within the Australian biota. Cracraft (1991) identified 14 recognisable areas in Australia with a unique assemblage of bird species (see figure 4.16 of SoE 1996). Crisp et al. (2001) analysed the distribution patterns of around 8500 vascular plant species. Twelve centres of endemism, which were all near coastal, were identified. The lack of centres of endemism in inland Australia was attributed to the selective extinction of narrow endemics driven by extreme climates during the last glacial maximum.

    Major centres of both plant endemism and diversity were also examined by Crisp et al. (2001). The regions that met both these criteria were south-west Australia, the Border Ranges between New South Wales and Queensland; the Wet Tropics near Cairns; Tasmania; and the Iron-McIlwraith Range of eastern Cape York Peninsula. The last centre appears to be more significant than recognised previously, and the Adelaide-Kangaroo Island region, which was also identified as important, has previously been overlooked altogether. It is important to have identified areas where high concentrations of species occur, so that they can be sympathetically managed.

    Levels of endemism are also high for marine groups such as macroalgae, with southern Australia being of major significance (Zann 1995). Levels of endemism of other marine groups are described (see The conservation status of marine species). The 5500 km coastline from south-west Western Australia to the border between New South Wales and Victoria is particularly rich in brown algae and red algae. Of these two groups, around 57 and 75% of species are endemic to southern Australia. Recent studies of cave biota in Australia have also discovered high levels of endemism (see Wilkens et al. 2000).

    Another measure of the uniqueness of Australia's biodiversity is the high level of variation in species richness among communities, and the variation in commonness and rarity among species, termed mosaic diversity. High values indicate complex landscapes with many environmental gradients, and many species with roughly equal abundance. Using this measure, the diversity of species and terrestrial ecosystems in Australia exceeds that of any other continent.

    Vulnerable, endangered, threatened or extinct species [BD Indicator 10.7]
  • Plants
  • Birds
  • Invertebrates
  • -->

    The differences between taxa in the percentages of threatened and extinct species reflect the biases in taxonomic and conservation focus (Table 50). Vertebrates (especially birds and mammals) and in general vascular plants receive much more attention than do invertebrates, non-vascular plants and fungi. This bias also appears in the records of other countries (Lawton & May 1995).

    Table 50: Total number of endangered (EN), vulnerable (VU) and presumed extinct (PEX) species in 1993 and 2001
    Species listed in 1993 are those under the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 and in 2001, under the EPBC Act.
    Total number of threatened species, 1993, 1027; Endangered and Vulnerable, 2001, 1478
    Taxon EN (1993) EN (2001) VU (1993) VU (2001) PEX (1993) PEX (2001)
    Ecological communities - 27 - - - -
    Fish 7 13 6 17 - -
    Amphibians 7 15 2 12 - 4
    Invertebrates - - - 4 - -
    Reptiles 6 11 15 38 - -
    Birds 26 33 25 61 20 23
    Mammals 28 29 18 45 21 27
    Non-vascular Plants - 1 - 1 - -
    Vascular plants 226 517 661 654 74 63
    Fungi - - - - - -
    Total species 300 646 727 832 115 117

    It appears that the number of nationally endangered and vulnerable species has increased in several groups over the last seven years (Table 50). In some instances, the numbers of species in these categories may change over time because there have been changes in the abundance or distribution of species. But in many cases, the changes are due to taxonomic revisions resulting in either the creation or loss of new species.

    The status of species may also change based on new information without any underlying change in the number or distribution of individuals or in the processes affecting them. New observations result in a reassessment of area of occupancy, extent of occurrence, population size, threat status, trends in population size or other factors contributing to assessment of conservation status.

    Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorhynchoides) is listed as a nationally endangered species within Australia (gazetted by ANZECC in 1999)

    Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorhynchoides) is listed as a nationally endangered species within Australia (gazetted by ANZECC in 1999).
    Once plentiful in the lowland grassy plains of Victoria, this species is now restricted mainly to railway reserves and is threatened by disturbances such as soil excavation, dumping and ploughing.

    Source: Murray Fagg, Australian National Botanic Gardens


    The most important change has been an increase in the number of endangered vascular plants. There were 226 endangered species on the official list in 1993, and 517 in 2001. Most of this is because the work on assessing threatened flora is continuing. Most additions are species that have never been assessed before, including some recently described taxa with very restricted distributions. However, there are some that are facing higher levels of threat than they were in 1993. The most important cause of changes in threat status that are not the result of new work or taxonomic revision over the last five years has been land clearance for urban and agricultural development.

    As many as 123 species vascular plant species were presumed extinct in 1988 but the number was revised downwards subsequently, largely as a result of new information, survey work and taxonomic revision (Figure 43). A total of 227 vascular plant species have been considered at some time to be extinct. The first two Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (ROTAP database) lists share relatively few species with one another, or with any of the subsequent lists. The turnover in species on the list of presumed extinct plants has been substantial, varying by 10 to 40% of their constituent species, even during the 1990s when the total number of species presumed to be extinct did not change greatly. Most of the changes are due to taxonomic revision and survey work. Few reflect actual changes in status.

    Figure 43: Changes in the number of presumed extinct vascular plant species in Australia between 1981 and 2000.
    The first list was compiled in 1981. ROTAP - Rare or Threatened Australian Plants database; ESP - Endangered Species Protection Act 1992; EPBC - Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; ANZECC - Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council.

     Changes in the number of presumed extinct vascular plant species in Australia between 1981 and 2000

    Source: Source: ANZECC (1993, 1995, 1999); Leigh et al. (1981); Briggs and Leigh (1988, 1996); Endangered Species Protection Act 1992, 1994, 1998 (Cwlth); EPBC Act; Leigh and Briggs (1992)

    The number of presumed extinct vascular plants at the national level has fallen from 74 to 63 during 1993 to 2001 (Table 50). This has occurred as a result of taxonomic revision and rediscovery. Additional survey work is often prompted by the inclusion of species on the 'presumed extinct' list. There may be some further reduction over the next five years. There may be new additions as new species are described, data on plant abundances are revised, and surveys are conducted for rare and endangered flora (Figures 44 and 45).

    Figure 44: Number of nationally rare and threatened species in 2000 per IBRA region.
    Mammal species have been particularly affected in the arid regions of Australia, whereas broad-scale clearance of woodland vegetation has had a major and ongoing affect on birds.

     Number of nationally rare and threatened species in 2000 per IBRA region

    Source: Environmental Information Resources Network

    Figure 45: Number of nationally rare and threatened species in 2000 per IMCRA region.

     Number of nationally rare and threatened species in 2000 per IMCRA region

    Source: Environmental Information Resources Network


    The 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000) listed 25 bird taxa (reporting to the subspecies level) as extinct, 32 as critically endangered, 41 as endangered, 82 as vulnerable and 81 as near threatened. The remaining 1114 taxa are deemed to be least concern, including 28 introduced taxa and 95 vagrants. Of those taxa known to have been present or to have occurred regularly in Australia when Europeans settled in 1788, 1.9% are reported as extinct and a further 11.5% are considered threatened. Some 6.0% are near threatened. Since the last Action Plan in 1992, research and surveys have shown that seven taxa are less threatened than was thought but a further 56 taxa should have been listed. Other differences between the 1992 Action Plan and Garnett and Crowley (2000) are accounted for by changes to taxonomy (19 taxa), to more rigorous IUCN criteria, which better define the different categories (138 taxa) or both (11 taxa).

    Using current knowledge, taxonomy and IUCN criteria, there has been a change in the status of 25 bird taxa (2.0%) over the eight years since the 1992 Bird Action Plan. For seven taxa, the conservation status can be downgraded as a result of effective conservation management: two from critically endangered to endangered, four from endangered to vulnerable and one from vulnerable to near threatened. However, the status of 18 taxa should be upgraded. Although no taxon has become extinct in the last decade, there has been a net increase of eight critically endangered taxa, with six fewer vulnerable and one more near threatened species.


    There are 281 species of Australian invertebrates listed on the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals (IUCN 1996), representing fewer than 0.5% of known taxa. However, only four species are listed nationally in the EPBC Act. The first attempt to appraise an invertebrate group in Australia comprehensively is underway for butterflies. At a broader level, the draft Action Plan for Invertebrates aims to objectively assess the conservation status of invertebrates in Australia by using 25 species to illustrate the range of needs for this diverse group.

    The conservation status of marine species [BD Indicator 10.7]
  • Fish species
  • Sea snakes
  • Turtles
  • Seabirds
  • Dugongs
  • Seals
  • Whales and dolphins
  • -->

    Knowledge of the conservation status of most of Australia's marine species is very limited. Australia's first endangered marine fish, the Spotted Handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus), is endemic to the lower Derwent River estuary in Tasmania. The decline in Spotted Handfish numbers has been linked to decline in suitable spawning substrate due to overall deterioration in the health of the Derwent system and the effect of the introduced Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias amurensis).

    The Spotted Handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus), endemic to the lower Derwent River estuary in Tasmania, 'walks' on its fins instead of swimming

    The Spotted Handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus), endemic to the lower Derwent River estuary in Tasmania, 'walks' on its fins instead of swimming.

    Source: M Green, CSIRO Marine Research

    Scientific interest has largely centred on the higher vertebrates such as turtles, seabirds, seals, Dugongs and whales. Microorganisms, algae, invertebrates and fish have been generally neglected. Australia is very rich in macroalgae or seaweeds. Southern Australia has over 1150 species (Zann 1995). This is greater than 50% more than any comparable region in the world (see also Coasts and Oceans Report).

    Fish species

    Australia has an estimated 4000 to 4500 species of fish, of which around 3600 have been described (Zann 1995). About one-quarter of the species are endemic, most of which are found in the south. Although regulations governing many of the fished species have long existed in Australia, marine fish conservation is a relatively new field and the conservation status of most species is poorly known. Potentially vulnerable fish include sharks, which are slow growing, have a low reproduction rate, are highly migratory and form schools during the mating season. Threats are commercial and sports fisheries, and shark meshing of surfing beaches. Fish species with restricted distributions are also vulnerable, particularly from loss of habitat. Broad-scale studies of the distribution of coral reef fishes, conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), show that overfishing can rapidly deplete the stocks of coral reef fishes. Surveys of the density of Coral Trout on Bramble Reef during and after the reef was closed to fishing found that the population of legal size Coral Trout fell by 57% in just two months when the reef was reopened for fishing (Wachenfeld et al. 1998).

    Sea snakes

    Australia has about 30 of the total number of 50 species, about half of which are endemic (Zann 1995). The family of aipysurids live in coral reef waters and the family of hydrophiids live in the interreef waters of Australia's tropics. Sea snakes bear live young and have a relatively short lifespan; they reach sexual maturity in around three years, and live for some 10 years. The greatest human impact is from prawn trawling. Between 10 and 40% of sea snakes taken in trawls die once released (Barratt et al. 2001). For the past 20 years, trawled sea snakes have been used in a small leather industry. Licences limit the take of sea snakes for leather to 20 000 per year (Barratt et al. 2001).


    Unlike sea snakes, turtles are a long-lived group of reptiles that are slow to reach maturity. They may breed only around five times in their lives, making them extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and habitat destruction or modification (Zann 1995). Breeding migrations may cover hundreds to thousands of kilometres and many turtles breeding in Australia may live around the islands of Papua New Guinea, the south-west Pacific Islands and Indonesia (Figure 46), making habitat management and enforcement difficult. The main human effects that occur while turtles are in Australian waters are: mortality of subadults and adults in prawn trawls, shark nets, drumlines and gill nets, and in collisions with high speed vessels; hunting by Indigenous communities; habitat degradation; and predation on eggs by feral animals. The effects of disease and parasites are unknown.

    Figure 46: Distribution of nesting turtles, for all six species occurring within Australian waters.
    Large dots denotes thousands of nesting females per year, medium denotes 10 to 100 females per year and the smallest dots are  Distribution of nesting turtles, for all six species occurring within Australian waters

    Source: QPWS, Marine Turtle Database

    Monitoring of turtles is essential to ensure that management practices are suitable to minimise or eliminate habitat degradation (Figures 47 and 48). In the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area most scientific studies of turtle populations have concentrated on Green and Loggerhead Turtles (Chelonia mydes and Caretta caretta respectively) (Wachenfeld et al. 1998). The Loggerhead is of specific concern as the number of nesting females has steadily declined since surveys began in the late 1970s. The east Australian population of Loggerhead Turtles used to represent the bulk of the South Pacific stock. If this population disappears, it will represent a highly significant loss (Wachenfeld et al. 1998). Because female turtles nest in the area where they were hatched, it is highly unlikely that a stock that has died out would be colonised naturally by Loggerhead Turtles elsewhere in the world.

    Figure 47: Decline in the number of nesting female Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) at Wreck Island.
    Since 1977, a census has been conducted each year during the peak breeding season in the last two weeks of December.

     Decline in the number of nesting female Loggerhead Turtles at Wreck Island

    Source: QPWS, Marine Turtle Database

    Figure 48: Number of nesting female Green Turtles (Chelonia mydes) tagged on Heron Island between 1974 and 1996 for the entire breeding season.
    The extreme variability in population numbers is caused by regional climatic cycles.

     Number of nesting female Green Turtles tagged on Heron Island between 1974 and 1996 for the entire breeding season

    Source: QPWS, Marine Turtle Database


    About 142 species of seabirds belonging to 12 families are found in Australia and its external territories (Zann 1995). Of these, 76 species breed and spend their entire lives in the region, and 34 species are regular or occasional visitors. Problems for sea birds include illegal poaching of adults, chicks and eggs; mortality from bushfires and feral animals; incidental capture of albatrosses and other seabirds by longline fishing; clearing of habitats; decline in prey due to overfishing; and disturbances of nesting colonies by humans and low-flying aircraft (e.g. Wachenfeld et al. 1998; Barratt et al. 2001). Possibly half of Australia's nesting islands are subject to one or more of these direct human threats.


    The tropical Dugong (Dugong dugon) is the only fully herbivorous marine mammal and the only Sirenian (sea cow) to occur in Australia (Zann 1995). It is extinct or near extinct in most of its former range which extended from East Africa to South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. Northern Australia has the last significant populations (estimated to be over 80 000) in the world. Large, long-lived mammals, Dugongs become sexually mature at around nine to 17 years and calve every three to seven years, making them vulnerable to excessive mortality. Management concerns include the potential for overhunting of some Torres Strait populations, death of individuals that are accidentally caught in fish gillnets and shark nets, and loss of seagrass habitat (Zann 1995; Wachenfeld et al. 1998).

    Surveys of Dugongs have been undertaken across Queensland since the early 1980s. Surveys south of Cooktown have documented a distinct decline in population with the 1994 estimate being only 48% of that for 1986 to 1987. A major mortality of animals occurred in Hervey Bay (Qld) in 1992 following the die-off of seagrasses. The Dugong is listed by the IUCN as 'vulnerable to extinction' and is a listed marine species under the EPBC Act. A population of around 10 000 animals at Shark Bay in Western Australia is considered of major significance for the species.


    Australia's seals were overhunted in the 1800s. They are now fully protected and some populations appear to be increasing, although marked long-term declines have been reported for other populations such as the Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) on Macquarie Island which have been monitored for the last 50 years. In this instance, the cause of the decrease is unknown, although it is likely to be related to increased competition for food supplies.

    An Action Plan has also been developed to encourage the long-term viability of seals. Major human threats include entanglement in fishing nets and ocean litter, oil pollution and disturbances by visitors. Fur seals are still occasionally illegally killed for lobster bait, and around fish farms for 'stealing' fish. Development of predator-resistant cages has reduced the latter problem. Entanglement in nets and plastic box straps remains a major threat. About 2% of seals at haul out or resting sites in Tasmania are entangled in net fragments and other plastic litter at any time (Barratt et al. 2001). A significant number of more badly tangled seals drown before reaching haul out sites. In 1990, an oil spill in Western Australia affected a number of New Zealand Fur Seal pups (Zann 1995).

    Whales and dolphins

    Gillnets, shark nets set off bathing beaches, discarded fishing nets, bioaccumulation of toxins and ingestion of plastic litter are considered threats to cetaceans (whales and dolphins) within Australia (Zann 1995). During the 1980s, almost 14 000 dolphins were drowned in Taiwanese shark gillnets off northern Australia but this fishery is now closed. The use of long driftnets (sometimes referred to as the 'walls of death'), which caused substantial mortalities of cetaceans, is now banned under the Convention for the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Driftnets in the South Pacific and the United Nations global moratorium on their use. However, many cetaceans are still caught in protective shark nets off bathing beaches. For example, around 520 dolphins were caught in shark nets off the coast of Queensland between 1967 and 1988 (Zann 1995).

    During the period of industrial whaling (1948-1962), the estimated numbers of Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) fell dramatically. Whaling has been replaced by the new industry of whale watching, which can bring significant incomes to local economies. For example, in Victoria, Warrnambool's land-based whale-watching industry is estimated to contribute $17 million annually to the region. Because of concerns that boats, aircraft and divers may affect whale behaviour, regulations govern the distances that observers may approach whales. Increases in the estimated number of whale species such as the Humpback Whale in eastern Australian waters suggest that habitat conditions are sound (Figure 49 and 52). Numbers have shown a steady increase since regular monitoring began in 1981.

    Figure 49: Number of Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Australia's east coast between 1948 and 1996.

     Number of Humpback Whales off Australia's east coast between 1948 and 1996

    Source: Bryden et al. (1996)

    Recovery plans: Securing species and communities in the wild [BD Indicators 15.1 and 15.2]

    Recovery plans set out the actions thought necessary to support the recovery of threatened species or ecological communities to maximise their chances of long-term survival in the wild.

    There were 1478 species and 27 ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act in February 2001, as either endangered or vulnerable at the national level. The categories 'critically endangered', 'conservation dependant' and 'extinct in the wild' have been added to the previous categories of endangered, vulnerable and extinct for threatened species and 'critically endangered' and 'vulnerable' have been added to the previous category of endangered for ecological communities. When approved by government Ministers, recovery plans become statutory documents. Furthermore, the EPBC Act prohibits Commonwealth agencies from undertaking activities that are inconsistent with a recovery plan.

    As of May 2000, there were 37 adopted recovery plans in place under the EPBC Act (Table 51) covering 44 species, 18 of which are plants. This means that around 3% of nationally listed species and communities have recovery plans. In early 2001, another 100 recovery plans, covering in excess of 130 species were being considered for adoption by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. State and territory governments also prepare recovery plans under their legislation, but documenting these plans was beyond the scope of this report.

    Table 51: The number of recovery plans for species and ecological communities threatened with extinction
    Species and communities are those listed under the EPBC Act as either endangered or vulnerable compared with the number of species and communities so classified, as at May 2000.
    Species group No. of adopted recovery plans for listed threatened species No. of species/ ecological communities covered by the recovery plans No. of species/ ecological communities in each group classified as threatened Threatened species in each group covered by a Recovery Plan (%)
    Fish 2 5 30 16.7
    Amphibians 1 2 27 7.4
    Invertebrates - - - -
    Reptiles 2 2 49 4.0
    Birds 12 12 94 12.8
    Mammals 5 5 74 6.7
    Non-vascular plants - - 2 0
    Vascular plants 15 18 1165 1.5
    Total species 37 44 1441 3
    Ecological communities - 23 23 100

    Source: Regional Wildlife Programs, Wildlife Branch, Environment Australia.

    There are many more plans in preparation, many without any funding support from the ESP. The amount of funding provided for the implementation of recovery plans, compared with the amount specified in the plans for full implementation, is provided in Table 52 for the Commonwealth level. This information relates to recovery plans funded through the ESP for species listed in the (now repealed) Endangered Species Act 1992. The total cost of implementation of the adopted plans from all sponsors comes to $25 015 105, of which the ESP provided $8 832 275, about 35% of the total cost. In order to be recognised under the EPBC Act, recovery plans have to be resubmitted.

    Table 52: The amount of funding provided for the implementation of recovery plans under the (repealed) Endangered Species Act 1992 (Cwlth) compared with the amount specified in the plans for full implementation
    There are donor sources that supply funding for the implementation of recovery plans (Commonwealth, state & local governments, NGOs, local community, and others).
    Endangered Species Program (ESP) $ does not include funding provided under the Threatened Species Network Community Grants Program.
    Figures are extracted from Program Administrator database and are subject to the accuracy of the information included in the database.
    Adopted recovery plans
    (37 plans covering 44 species)
    Period of
    Total cost of implementation of adopted plan
    (all sponsors) ($)
    ESP $ provided for species Period of ESP funding
    Abbott's Booby 1998-2002 140 000 57 000 1993-94 to 1995-96
    Black-eared Miner 1997-2001 2 089 200 219 000 1991-92 to 1999-00
    Central Rock-rat 2000-2001 608 900 181 646 1989-90 to 1999-00
    Christmas Island Shrew 1997-2002 129 000 22 700 1996-97 to 1998-99
    Chuditch 1992-2001 1 452 400 682 800 1991-92 to 1998-99
    Forty-spotted Pardalote 1991-1996 322 500 271 650 1991-92 to 1995-96
    Glossy Black Cockatoo (SA spp.) 1999-2003 1 192 300 648 800 1992-93 to 1999-00
    Golden-shouldered Parrot 1999-2002 256 000 200 800 1993-94 to 1997-98
    Gouldian Finch 1998-2002 1 065 600 770 000 1992-93 to 1999-00
    Helmeted Honeyeater 1999-2003 1 675 600 495 000 1992-93 to 1999-00
    Leadbeaters Possum 1997-2001 1 211 000 329 500 1993-94 to 1999-00
    Noisy Scrub Bird 1993-2002 2 540 400 405 940 1992-93 to 1999-00
    Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat 1998-2002 1 789 600 819 422 1991-92 to 1999-00
    Orange-bellied Parrot 1991-1996 496 300 752 630 1989-90 to 1999-00
    Regent Honeyeater 1999-2003 2 116 000 635 900 1993-94 to 1999-00
    Spotted Handfish 1999-2001 1 086 300 358 291 1995-96 to 1999-00
    Striped Legless Lizard 1999-2003 1 119 800 - -
    Swift Parrot 1997-1999 620 700 486 636 1991-92 to 1998-99
    Tasmanian Galaxiid Species (4 species) 1997-2002 711 300 422 610 1989-90 to 1999-00
    Wedge-tailed Eagle (Tas. spp.) 1998-2003 465 900 238 726 1991-92 to 1999-00
    Western Swamp Tortoise 1998-2002 968 600 450 470 1989-90 to 1999-00
    White and Orange Bellied Frog 1992-2001 343 100 224 700 1991-92 to 1995-96
    Acacia pharangites 1999-2002 65 500 - -
    Alectryon ramiflorus 1998-2001 265 000 48 614 1994-95 to 1998-99
    Banksia cuneata 1992-2001 253 000 170 200 1992-93 to 1998-99
    Barbarea australis 1998-2002 202 449 15 548 1992-93 to 1998-99
    Cyphanthera odgersii ssp. occidentalis 1999-2002 109 550 - -
    Eucalyptus rhodantha 1992-2001 356 800 175 900 1991-92 to 1998-99
    Persoonia nutans 1997-2002 21 995 21 400 1992-93 to 1995-96
    Pimelia spicata 1993-1997 141 560 108 130 1992-93 to 1996-97
    Ranunculus prasinus 1992-2000 8 766 7 595 1991-92 to 1995-96
    Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides 1993-2000 437 700 33 000 1992-93 to 1993-94
    Spyridium obcordatum 1991-1993 20 885 - -
    Stylidium coroniforme 1992-2001 125 000 63 500 1991-92 to 1996-97
    Tasmanian Lowland Euphrasia species (4 species) 1997-2001 172 800 140 967 1993-94 to 1998-99
    Wollemia nobilis 1997-2001 398 600 - -
    Zieria prostrata 1998-2001 35 000 22 000 1991-92 to 1996-97

    Source: Regional Wildlife Programs, Wildlife Branch, Environment Australia. Data currency: May 2000.

    Looking after species away from their homes [BD Indicators 16.1 and 16.2]

    As part of the recovery process for threatened species, zoos and herbaria have been refining the processes through which they manage captive populations. Although managing species in the wild is preferred, sometimes it is necessary to manage them ex situ (away from their homes). Usually this is required to increase the number of individuals by breeding them in captivity and releasing them into the wild when conditions are suitable. Considerable human and financial resources have been expended on ex situ conservation for threatened species (e.g. see the Mala recovery programs and Mala dreaming box below).

    Mala recovery programs and Mala Dreaming

    The Mala or Rufous Hare-Wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus) once occupied about 25% of the continent and was common across the spinifex deserts of the Northern Territory and north-west South Australia, to the temperate woodlands and grasslands of Western Australia's wheat belt. The species was an important food source to Indigenous peoples throughout its geographical range, and the Mala remains of great cultural significance to the people of the central deserts. Since European settlement, the population of Mala has declined to the brink of extinction, suffering a similar fate as many small to medium-sized mammals in arid Australia. It is now listed as a nationally endangered species.

    By 1980, there were only two known populations of the species on the continent, comprising a total of about 50 individuals. These populations were situated close together in the Tanami Desert in country owned by the Warlpiri. In 1980, a captive breeding program for the species was commenced in Alice Springs. By 1986, as a consequence of successful breeding, scientists from the Northern Territory's PWC were able to translocate progeny of this population into an electric-fenced enclosure on the floodplain of the Lander River, near the Indigenous community at Willowra in the Tanami Desert.

    Despite numerous efforts to reintroduce Mala from the enclosure into adjacent spinifex grassland, a wild population could not be established mainly because of predation by the cat and fox. The captive breeding program at the Alice Springs Desert Park continues under the direction of the PWC. Translocations of some animals bred in central Australia have been made to habitats previously occupied by the species in Western Australia, including an enclosure in Dryandra forest south-east of Perth, and to breeding compounds in Franois Peron National Park. Another group of Mala have been successfully established in the wild on Trimouille Island off the Pilbara coast. Recently Mala from the Tanami Desert captive colony were translocated to a large new enclosure in Watarrka National Park to the south-west of Alice Springs.

    The Mala occupies an important role in the cultural lives of the Warlpiri and other Indigenous peoples who are traditional owners of the land the species once occupied. The Mala features prominently in the creation stories and ceremonies of many of these peoples, and the Warlpiri felt a considerable responsibility for the disappearance of the species as they relate its decline to a decline in traditional Mala ceremonies.

    Mala (Wallaby) Dreaming was the first painting by Kumantjayi Tjupurrula, who is now recognised as one of Australia's greatest contemporary artists. The dreaming or story of the painting was recorded by Geoffrey Bardon AO, when it was created at Papunya (NT) in early 1971. He noted (G Bardon 1999, Summary of story associated with painting):

    The central pattern of the work shows ceremonial men sitting at a series of fireplaces. On both sides are wallaby tracks from the Wallaby Spirit Men as they travel to and from a sit-down place, which are indicated by the concentric circles. The repetition and looping between concentric circles in the central motif, represents a dancing and singing ceremony. This ceremony is held in turn at a sit-down place that is part of the Wallaby Dreaming.

    Table 53 lists threatened species under the EPBC Act that are subject to ex situ programs of the major botanical gardens and zoos, and wildlife parks in Australia. Many of these programs involve research aimed at maintaining, breeding and propagating populations in the zoos and botanic gardens for release back into the wild. Ex situ research is defined as research using captive animals that aims to assist with sustaining and establishing the captive population. Ex situ programs were recorded for 86 species.

    Table 53: Threatened species (listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) for which there are ex situ programs in Australian zoos and botanical gardens to breed populations in captivity 
    Common name Species name InstitutionA No. in captivity ReleaseB Ex situ research National Threat StatusC
    Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis AZ
    Black-flanked Rock-wallaby Petrogale lateralis lateralis ZPGB-V UN 0 Yes VU
    Broad-headed Snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides ARP c. 8 0 No VU
    Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata QPWS
    Carpentarian Rock Rat Zyzomys palatalis TWP UN 0 No EN
    Chuditch Dasyurus geoffroii PZ UN 302E Yes VU
    Dibbler Parantechinus apicalis PZ UN 86F Yes EN
    Eastern Barred Bandicoot Perameles gunnii ZPGB-V UN 400 Yes EN
    False Water Rat Xeromys myoides TWP UN 0 No VU
    Fleay's Barred Frog Mixophyes fleayi QPWS UN 0 Yes EN
    Giant Burrowing Frog Heleioporus australiacus ARP 2 0 No VU
    Golden-backed Tree Rat Mesembriomys macruus TWP UN 0 No VU
    Golden Bandicoot Isoodon auratus arnhemensis TWP UN 0 No VU
    Greater Bilby Macrotis lagotis ES
    Greater Stick-nest Rat Leporillus conditor PZ
    Green and Golden Bell Frog Litorea aurea ARP c. 20 0 Yes VU
    Helmeted Honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops cassidix ZPGB-V UN 34 Yes EN
    Julia Creek Dunnart Sminthopsis douglasi QPWS UN 0 Yes EN
    Lancelin Island Skinks Ctenotus lancelini PZ UN 0 Yes VU
    Leadbeaters Possum Gymnobelideus leadbeateri ZPGB-V UN 0 Yes EN
    Long-footed Potoroo Potorous longipes ZPGB-V UN 0 Yes EN
    Long-nosed Potoroo Potorous tridactylus tridactylus ES UN UN No VU
    Mala Lagorchestes hirsutus MZP UN 0 No EN
    Mallee Fowl Leipoa ocellata AZ, MZP UN 0 No VU
    Mountain Pygmy Possum Burramys parvus ZPGB-V UN 0 Yes EN
    Mulgara Dasycercus cristicauda TWP UN 0 No VU
    Northern Bettong Bettongia tropica QPWS UN 0 Yes EN
    Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus ES
    Orange Bellied Parrot Neophema chrysogaster AZ
    2 breeding pairs
    Partridge Pigeon (eastern) Genophaps smithii smithii TWP UN 0 No VU
    Plains Rat Pseudomys australis ES UN UN No VU
    Proserpine Rock-wallaby Petrogale persephone QPWS UN Yes Yes EN
    Regent Honeyeater Xanthomyza phrygia AZ, GWP UN 0   EN
    Southern Brown Bandicoot Isoodon obesulus ES UN UN No VU
    Striped Legless Lizard Delma impar ZPGB-V UN UN Yes VU
    Stuttering Frog Mixophyes balbus ARP 2 0 Yes VU
    Tammar Wallaby Macropus eugenii eugenii AZ
    EX (SA)
    Western Swamp Tortoise Pseudemydura umbrina PZ >150 247E Yes EN
    Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby Petrogale xanthopus ES
    AZ, MZP
    Total fauna: 41 species out of a total of 332 threatened species (EX, VU or EN) = 12.4 %
    - Allocasuarina portuensis RBGS UN Yes Yes EN
    - Eucalyptus copulans RBGS UN 0 Yes EN
    Adamson's Blown-grass Agrostis adamsonii RMBG UN c. 100 Yes EN
    Anglesea Grevillea Grevillea infecunda RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Basalt Diuris Orchid Diuris basaltica RMBG UN 0 Yes EN
    Border heath Epacris limbata TDPIWE 10 0 No VU
    Concave Pomaderris Pomaderris subplicata RMBG UN c. 80 Yes VU
    Cotoneaster Pomaderris Pomaderris cotoneaster RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Davies' Wax-flower Phebalium daviesii TDPIWE UN Yes No EN
    Drapetes Kelleria laxa RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Dwarf Kerrawang Rulingia prostrata RMBG UN 0 Yes EN
    Echidna Wattle Acacia cretacea PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Elegant Spider-orchid Caladenia formosa RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Glandular Phebalium Phebalium glandulosum PBC UN UN Yes VU
    Glenelg Pomaderris Pomaderris halmaturina PBC UN UN Yes VU
    Gorae Leek Orchid Prasophyllum diversiflorum RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Grampians Pincushion-lily Borya mirabilis RMBG UN 0   EN
    Kings Lomatia Lomatia tasmanica TDPIWE 2 0 Yes EN
    Lowan Phebalium Phebalium lowanense RMBG UN 0 Yes VU
    Marble Daisy-bush Olearia astroloba RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Menzels Wattle Acacia pinguifolia PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Monarto Mintbush Prostanthera eurybioides PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Moresby Range Drummondita Dodonaea subglandulifera PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Mountain Correa Correa lawrenciana var. genoensis RMBG UN 10 Yes EN
    Mt William Grevillea Grevillea williamsonii RMBG UN 0 Yes EN
    Mueller Daisy Brachyscome muelleri PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Prickly Raspwort Haloragis eyreana PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Rigid Spider-orchid Caladenia tensa RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Rosella Spider-orchid Caladenia rosella RMBG UN 0 Yes EN
    Saltbush Ballantinia antipoda RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Sandhill Greenhood Pterostylis arenicola PBC UN UN Yes VU
    Small Scurf-pea Cullen parvum RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Small-flowered Daisy-bush Olearia microdisca PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Somersby Mintbush Prostanthera junonis RBGS UN 0 Yes EN
    Spreading Phebalium Phebalium brachyphyllum PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Stiff Groundsel Senecio behrianus RMBG UN 0 No EN
    Stuart's Heath Epacris stuartii TDPIWE 400 Yes No EN
    Sunshine Diuris Orchid Diuris fragrantissima RMBG UN Yes Yes EN
    Superb Greenhood Pterostylis cucullata RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Tall Astelia Astelia australiana RMBG UN 0 No VU
    Trailing Willow-herb Epacris barbata TDPIWE 10 0 No EN
    Tufted Bush-pea Pultenaea trichophylla PBC UN UN Yes VU
    Whibley Wattle Acacia whibleyana PBC UN UN Yes EN
    Whipstick Westringia Westringia crassifolia RMBG UN 0 Yes EN
    Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis RBGS UN 0 Yes EN
    Total Flora: 45 species out of a total of 1236 threatened species (EX, VU or EN) = 3.6 %

    AAZ, Adelaide Zoo; ZPGB-V, Zoological Parks and Gardens Board, Victoria (includes Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Victoria's Open Range Zoo, Werribee); QPWS, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service; ES, Earth Sanctuaries; ARP, Australian Reptile Park; TWP, Territory Wildlife Park; PZ, Perth Zoo; 1990-2000; 1997-2000; No longer released since overall recovery objectives achieved; WPZ-D, Western Plains Zoo (Dubbo); 1993-2000; GWP, Gorge Wildlife Park; UN, unknown;RBGS, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (includes Mount Annan Botanic Gardens); RMBG, Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens; TDPIWE, Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Wildlife and Environment; PBC, Plant Biodiversity Centre, South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage;
    Release back to wild or to predator controlled sites, 1990-2000 (unless otherwise stated) and number released where provided by institution;
    CNational Threat Status (see Table 50);
    UN, unknown;E1990-2000;F1997-2000; GNo longer released since overall recovery objectives achieved; H1993-2000.

    Craig et al. (1998) provided some material on the release of captive-bred animals from zoo programs. Of the 19 programs that explicitly recognised the process by which zoos cooperate with wildlife agencies as part of an overall recovery plan, captive breeding for release into the wild is an explicit goal of 16 recovery programs. The recovery program for the Mala, an endangered species with particular importance for Indigenous people in central Australia (see Mala recovery programs and Mala Dreaming), illustrates the complex nature of these activities. Predation by feral cats and foxes pose a major threat to species when they are released into the wild and major programs such as the Western Shield (see Managing introduced species) aim to reduce their numbers before native species are released into the wild.

    Members of the Warlpiri community have been closely involved in the recovery program for the endangered Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus), which occupies an important role in the cultural lives of these traditional owners of land the species once occupied

    Members of the Warlpiri community have been closely involved in the recovery program for the endangered Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus), which occupies an important role in the cultural lives of these traditional owners of land the species once occupied.

    Source: D Langford, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory

    Species of economic importance [BD Indicator 10.8]
  • Assigning a dollar value to biodiversity
  • Commercial fisheries
  • Forests and fodder
  • Growing and harvesting native plant species
  • Native animal species (meat, skin and hides)
  • Live animal species
  • Tourism
  • Bioprospecting
  • Ecosystem services
  • The use of native species by Indigenous communities
  • -->

    The values of biodiversity discussed at the beginning of this report included economic values. The economic value of some native species or suites of species is well enough known, as there are recognised economic activities and products traded in markets. These include major industries such as fisheries and forestry, which are based largely on wild populations. The wildflower, bushfood and cut foliage industries involve numerous native species (Table 54). Perhaps less obvious is the use of spiders and snakes for their venom and the harvesting of sea cucumbers - an animal that is considered a delicacy in Asian countries. Seahorses are also harvested from the wild, being primarily used as Chinese medicines, aphrodisiacs and food, although the market for curios and aquarium fish is growing steadily. Tropical species of seahorse are endangered as a result of wild harvesting. A company in Tasmania is planning to supply this market by farming temperate species. The species used is proving suitable for aquaculture and the venture is on the point of commercial production.

    Table 54: Permits issued to pick or sell native flora in New South Wales, 1998 to 1999
    Also includes some species listed in the permit data.
    Species No. of stems licensed to pick or sell
    Actinotus helianthi 14 320
    Adiantum spp. 778
    Archontophoenix cunninghamiana 1 000
    Asplenium nidus 10 925
    Asplenium flactum 50
    Blandfordia spp. 1 160
    Boronia spp. 220
    Bulbophyllum spp. 190
    Calanthe triplicata 25
    Casuarina cunninghamiana
    Caustis spp. 400A
    Cyathea spp. 10 328
    Cymbidium spp. 20
    Davallia pyxidata 28
    Dendrobium spp. 6 464
    Dicksonia spp. 2 968
    Dipodium spp. 20
    Doryanthes spp. 665
    Eriostemon spp. 1 210
    Galeola spp. 20
    Geodorum pictum 20
    Liparis spp. 20
    Livistona australis 4 550
    Lomatia silaifolia 250
    Oberonia spp. 20
    Papillilabium beckleri 20
    Parasarcochilus spp. 20
    Peristeranthus hillii 20
    Persoonia pinifolia 80
    Phreatia spp. 20
    Platycerium spp. 7 675
    Restio tetraphyllus 450
    Rhinerrhiza divitiflora 70
    Sarcochilus spp. 753
    Taeniophyllum spp. 20
    Telopea spp. 31 150
    Unspecified numbers of:
    Ceratopetalum gummiferum  
    Crowea spp.  
    Lycopodium deuterodensum  
    Sprengelia incarnata  
    Todea barbara  
    Xylomelum spp.  


    Any attempt to assess the economic significance of biodiversity is complicated by two factors. First, many values of biodiversity are not traded in markets. Thus, new and often contested valuation methods must be used to estimate the financial value of biodiversity. This difficulty is encapsulated by the example of a valuation of use of an Australian national park, where one critic claimed the original estimate was four times too large and another claimed it was six times too small (Beal 1998). Second, many biodiversity-based industries are recent and small and thus often do not have well-developed information systems. Third, biodiversity is the classic 'cross-sectoral' issue, so that expenditure or economic activity across a wide range of commercial sectors and policy portfolios affects or is affected by biodiversity.

    Painting of Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus) Dreaming by Kumantjayi Tjupurrula (1971)

    Painting of Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus ) Dreaming by Kumantjayi Tjupurrula (1971).

    Source: TW Norton

    Assigning a dollar value to biodiversity

    Although there is considerable and increasing activity that gains economic benefits from native species, few empirical data are available. Consequently, the following examples are indicative only. To give at least a lower estimate of the dollar value of biodiversity, these examples are also summarised in Table 55.

    Table 55: The dollar value of biodiversity: A selection of species of economic importance that are referred to in the text, excluding fish 
    Dollars values ($A) are in millions, except for the value of individual pets.
    Category of use Species
    common name
    Scientific name Details Estimated value in A$ million (national turnover of industry, unless otherwise stated)
    Animal products
    Meat/skin/hide/ feathers Kangaroo Including: Macropus rufus,
    M. giganteus, M. robustus,
    M. fuliginosus
    Skins, leather, game meat and pet food 445 (1998)
    Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae Oil, feathers, skin, meat 7 (1998)
    Freshwater Eel Anguilla spp. Meat 5 (2000)
    Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula Harvested commercially for skins and meat only in Tas. where they are larger and have denser fur 5 (1998)
    Crocodile Crocodylus porosus and
    Crocodylus johnstoni
    Meat, leather 3 (1998)
    Yabbies Cherax spp.   2.1 (1997)
    Bennett's Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus Primarily sold as pet food in Tasmania 0.75 (1999)
    Muttonbird/Short tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris Oil, feathers, skin, meat 0.43 (1998)
    Dried food product Jellyfish Catoctylus mosaicus   Unknown
    Sea cucumber,
    bche de mer
    Family Holothuroidea   Unknown
    Seahorse Hippocampus spp. Food and Chinese medicines Unknown
    Venom     Venom, purified toxins, antibodies to toxins, and blood snake serums Unknown
    Redback Spider Latrodectus hasselti    
    Snake Serpentes spp.    
    Sydney Funnel Web Spider Atrax robustus    
    White tailed Spider Lampona cylindrata    
    Plant products
    Essential oils       20 (1998)
    Blue Mallee Eucalyptus polybractea Eucalyptus oil used as a food flavouring, perfume, inhalent and solvent.  
    Boronia Boronia megastigma Boronia oil used as a fragrance  
    Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Tasmania lanceolata Oil exported to Japan for use in chocolates, toothpaste and chewing gum  
    Tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia Tea tree oil used for its antiseptic and antifungal properties  
    Alkaloid extracts Corkwood Duboisia spp. Used for a number of medical purposes, including as a muscle relaxant and as a depressant 3.8 (gross value of industry, 1991 92)
    Tannins Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii Tanning agent in leather manufacture Unknown
    Wildflowers Kangaroo Paw,Wax Flowers & Grampians Thryptomene Anigozanthus spp Chamelaucium spp. and Thryptomene calycina Listed are the three top export species (see Table 6.20 for native species harvested in WA) 30 (1998)
    Bushfoods Bush Tomato Solanum centrale Fruit 14 (1998)
    Lemon Aspera Acronychia acidula Fruit  
    Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora Leaf and oil  
    Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Tasmannia lanceolata Leaves and berries  
    Muntries Kunzea pomifera Fruit  
    Quandong Santalum acuminatum Fruit  
    Warrigal Greens Tetragonia tetragonoides Salad vegetable  
    Wattle Acacia spp. Flavouring in desserts, ground wattleseed used in pastries and breads  
    Agricultural production Macadamia Macadamia integrifolia and M. tetraphylla. Nuts and oil 26.6 (gross value of industry, 1991 92)
    Building material and fibre Broombush Melaleuca uncinata Brush fencing Unknown
    Seagrass Zostera spp. Beach cast material is used as house insulation and garden mulch Unknown
    Sphagnum Moss Sphagnum spp . Potting mix Unknown
    Kelp derived products Kelp Phaeophyta spp. Human food, food and cosmetic manufacture (thickeners and emulsifiers), agriculture (fertilisers and growth promoters) and biomedicines. Unknown
    Pearls Giant Australian Oyster Pinctada maxima   200 (1998)
    Shells     Specimen collections. Only a few mollusc species, of the total of 12 000, are exempt from collection Unknown
    Tourism Koala Phascolarctos cinereus 'Koala industry' includes visiting zoos and wildlife parks, accommodation, photographs 336 (1998)
    Fairy Penguin Eudyptula minor Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, Vic. 96.5 (for Victoria, 1998)
    Whale Cetaceans Whale watching 17 (Victoria, 2001)
    Crocodile Crocodylus porosus Crocodile cruises on Adelaide River, NT 2 (1998)
    Hunting Duck and Quail     36 (1998)
    Whole plants
    Native nursery plants     Some 1 600 native species available in the nursery trade Unknown
    Soft Tree Fern Dicksonia antarctica Plantation and legally harvested plants sold by nurseries and retail outlets for landscaping 1 (estimated value of export market, 2000)
    Fodder crops Golden Wreath Wattle Acacia saligna   Unknown
    Old Man Saltbush and River Saltbush Atriplex nummularia and
    A. amnicola
    Live animals
    Pet birds       The following prices are for individual animals sold in Australia (1997)
    Red tail Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus magnificus   1 750
    Gang gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum   500
    Major Mitchell Cockatoo Cacatua leadbeateri   350
    Cloncurry Parrot Barnardius barnardius macgillivrayi   175
    Sulphur crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita   60
    Hooded Parrot Psephotus dissimilis   50
    Princess Parrot Polytelis alexandrae   50
    Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius   30
    Galah Cacatua roseicapilla   30
    Turquoise Parrot Neophema pulchella   15
    Red rumped Parrot Psephotus haematonotus   12
    Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus   10
    Pet reptiles Green Tree Phython Chondropython viridis   2 300
    Spiny tailed Monitor Varanus acanthurus   550
    Goulds Monitor Varanus gouldii   450
    Carpet Python Morelia spilota variegata   200
    Cunninghams Skink Egernia cunninghami   80
    Blue Tongue Lizard Tiliqua scincoides   40
    Long necked Tortoise Chelodina longicollis   40
    Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps   35
    Earth sanctuaries     Threatened species are protected and bred within feral proof sanctuaries. The sanctuaries provide for ecotourism 1.1 Total market and economic value, 1999
    Bilby Macrotis lagotis    
    Boodie Bettongia lesueur    
    Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata    
    Eastern Quoll Dasyurus viverrinus    
    Long nosed Potoroo Potorous tridactylus tridactylus    
    Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus    
    Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus    
    Red necked Pademelon Thylogale thetis    
    Rufous Bettong Aepyprymnus rufescens    
    Southern Brown Bandicoot Isoodon obesulus    
    Southern Hairy nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus latifrons    
    Sticknest Rat Leporillus conditor    
    Tammar Wallaby Macropus eugenii    
    Woylie/Brush tailed Bettong Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi    
    Yellow footed Rock wallaby Petrogale xanthopus    

    Source: Australian Senate (1998); Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (1998); Tasmania, DPIWE (1999); Parliament of Victoria (2000).

    Commercial fisheries

    Commercial fisheries in Australia depend largely on wild caught species, supported an estimated production value of $1.8 billion in 1998-99 (ABARE 1999). The oyster industry, based on the Giant Australian Oyster (Pinctada maxima) produces exports of some $200 million per year. There is major scope for commercial production of some native fish species for human consumption, such as Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii), Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus), Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) and Mulloway (Johnius antarctica). Freshwater eels (Anguilla spp.), which have a poorly understood breeding migration to offshore waters (possibly in the Coral Sea), support an industry of about $5 million per year and are increasingly 'ranched', with harvested young raised in captivity. It is likely that the total economic value of recreational fisheries, again largely based on native species, exceeds that of commercial fisheries when ancillary activity (e.g. boats, fuel, accommodation) is accounted for.

    Forests and fodder

    Woodchips from native forests had a value in 1998-99 of $590 million. While this is only one category of forestry production in economic terms, it is a particularly significant one and known to be sourced from native forests rather than exotic plantations. Significant pastoral industries in drier areas in Australia depend on pasture provided by native shrub, grass and forb species. For example, 7% of Australia's beef cattle are found in the Northern Territory, and these depend largely on native pastures. To give some estimate of this value, between 1983 and 1984, the value of native pasture support industries in Queensland was calculated as $1125 million per year. There are increasing efforts to re-establish useful native shrub species for fodder and land degradation control (e.g. Old Man Saltbush, Atriplex nummularia, in western New South Wales).

    Growing and harvesting native plant species

    The ABS (ABS 1999a) used the annual service costs of maintaining a garden with native plants as the basis for estimating households' expenditure towards 'protection of biodiversity and landscape'. The result was an estimate of $169 million in 1996-97, which reflects a growing use of native species for ornamental purposes. Australian wildflower exports in 1997 were valued at $30 million and the 'bushfood' industry was expected to grow from $14 million in 1996 to over $100 million in 2000. There are no data on the value of the native species component of the nursery industry, but some 1600 species are grown and traded (Parliament of Victoria 2000).

    Native animal species (meat, skin and hides)

    Duck and quail hunting (recreational) in Victoria is estimated to involve over $30 million expenditure each year. The kangaroo industry is estimated to support 4000 jobs in rural areas, and the value of the industry is about $245 million per year; the emerging Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae ) industry is smaller at $6-8 million per year. In Tasmania, the Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) harvest has an annual value of $400 000, the Muttonbird (Puffinus spp.) harvest $425 000 and Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), $750 000 (DPIWE 1999). An increasing number of possums are exported for human consumption in China as a 'warming meat'.

    In many such industries, there is considered to be scope for greater economic value through increased processing, niche products, expansion of cultivation rather than harvesting, or greater use for human consumption (e.g. much kangaroo meat is used for pet food, and much leather remains unused). Again, different values will define different attitudes to the expansion of such industries. Some biodiversity-based industries now coordinated by industry organisations are more organised towards both sustainable practices and value-adding and export. These include the Kangaroo Industry Association and the Southern Bushfoods Association.

    Live animal species

    Another indication of the economic value of Australian species is the prices paid for single specimens for companion animals. Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus magnificus), one of the few bird species subject to a managed harvest for export (from NT), can fetch $8000 to $9000 per animal, the same as a Gang-Gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum). Sulfur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and Galahs (Cacatua roseicapilla) can fetch over $1000 each, as can a native Green Tree Python (Chondropython viridis) or a Spiny-tailed Monitor (Varanus acanthurus) in other countries. This trade is small, and beset with problems of legality and whether this is an acceptable or appropriate use of biodiversity.

    Some argue that if wild populations have a commercial value, landholders are encouraged to improve the resources they depend on and that a carefully regulated industry could increase the distribution and numbers of wild species. Earth Sanctuaries Limited has put an 'economic value' on a range of vertebrate species and includes $3.8 million for Australian fauna on its balance sheet. For example, the 130 individuals of Numbat owned and managed by the company are valued at $650 000. The Productivity Commission has recently undertaken a study of creating markets for biodiversity resources and services that focuses on Earth Sanctuaries.

    In Western Australia, Fund for Wild Australia, a privately owned non-profit organisation, is also developing a series of wildlife exclosures to protect endangered mammal species, although this enterprise is not listed on the stock exchange. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature argues that while well-managed predator exclosures can contribute to the conservation of certain species, their benefits should not be exaggerated. They should be seen as just one of the tools available to help protect endangered animal species.


    Other species are clearly of economic significance but this is more difficult to estimate. Tourism provides an example. Hundloe and Hamilton (1997) estimated that the koala is worth $1.1 billion per year through its iconic role in attracting international tourists to Australia, and that in the absence of Australia's unique wildlife, there would have been a loss of $1.8 billion in tourism revenue in 1996 (rising to $2.5 billion in 2000). Surveys of international tourists indicate that a major proportion identify nature-based factors such as wildlife and national parks as a motivation for their visit. Many remote communities are increasingly dependent on income from small-scale 'ecotourism' ventures.

    Although the contribution of particular elements of biodiversity to the attractiveness or allure of, say, a national park is difficult to measure precisely, it is fundamental. Valuations reported in Bennett et al. (1996) provided some idea of the local and regional benefits of protected areas. The annual economic value of Dorrigo and Gibraltar Range National Parks in New South Wales was $5.4 million and $800 000, respectively. Such figures and associated employment can be highly significant in rural areas. Biodiversity in protected areas is obviously crucial to the tourism industry, both domestic and international. Some indicative economic values from Victoria are: nature-based tourism in the Grampians region, $100 million annually; and the Penguin Parade Reserve, $96.5 million in 1995-96 and over 1000 jobs (Parliament of Victoria 2000). Visitation to national parks and reserves in Victoria grew from 8 to 25 million per year between the late 1980s and late 1990s.


    Bioprospecting (the chemical prospecting for pharmaceuticals in natural organisms) is a growing industry in Australia, with potential in both terrestrial and aquatic environments (see Bioprospecting). If managed appropriately, bioprospecting has the potential to have minimal impact, as modern screening methodologies and analytical instruments permit the identification of biologically active compounds from fairly small samples (Benkendorff 2001). Another area of clear future significance is the potential economic value of native genetic resources. The ability to capture new biotechnological benefits will rely on maintaining biodiversity in its natural environment because the exploitation of metabolites usually depends on observing the interactions between organisms in their natural environment (Battershill & EvansIllidge 2000).

    Bioprospecting: Chemical prospecting in natural organisms

    Bioprospecting - the chemical prospecting for pharmaceuticals in natural organisms - has been promoted as a means for discovering new medicines, an instrument for economic development and an incentive for conservation. Certainly most of both the drugs in commercial use, and those being developed, are of natural origin. The most well-known and celebrated example of a pharmaceutical company channelling money towards the preservation of biodiversity is the collaboration between Merck and the Costa Rica National Biodiversity Institute (INBio). Merck negotiated an up-front fee of US$1 million for the opportunity to explore Costa Rica's biodiversity for novel drugs. If a useful drug is discovered, INBio will receive a share of the royalties. As part of the deal, 10% of the up-front money and 50% of the royalties must go directly towards conservation.

    A major program at AIMS is examining the benefits from marine biotechnology. The aim is to use specimens of macro and microorganisms to discover novel biomolecules with strong biocidal and anti-infective activities as well as developing and commercialising technology for seafood diagnostic kits.

    Benkendorff (2001) identifies conservation benefits and problems associated with bioprospecting in the marine environment. Comprehensive surveys undertaken as part of her studies recorded a much higher species diversity than previously recognised, identified an important breeding site and hotspot of molluscan species richness, recorded new distributions for three species and found an unidentified Polycerid nudibranch. Following the surveys, her research focused on the marine mollusc, Dicathais orbita. Several potential resources are produced by both the adults and egg masses of Dicathais orbita, including pharmaceuticals.

    Several ethical issues have also been identified such as the potential environmental effects of extraction, the need for the fair and equitable sharing of results and benefits, and the need to protect intellectual property rights when traditional or other knowledge about the natural biota is shared with bioprospectors.

    Benefit sharing and intellectual property rights, and to a lesser extent the environmental effects of bioprospecting, have been described in several national and international declarations, resolutions and other publications. These include the recent public inquiry into access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas (Voumard 2000). The final report from this inquiry recommended that bioprospecting should be considered as a 'matter of significance' under s23 and s26 of the EPBC Act when assessing applications for access to biodiversity on Commonwealth land or in Commonwealth marine areas. State governments are also developing policies on the access and benefit sharing of biodiversity resources. The Commonwealth House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services is also examining the development of high technology industries in regional Australia based on bioprospecting. At the international level, bioprospecting is a major topic being examined through the CBD, with Australia being strongly involved in the development of a policy on access and benefit sharing. Given this level of activity, it is likely that the level of bioprospecting in Australia will increase, despite the financial risks and potential difficulties associated with synthesising large quantities of the extracted compounds.

    Ecosystem services

    Such estimates of particular economic contributions from biodiversity only go some way towards providing measurement of the total value of biodiversity. For example, although the $300 million-plus Australian honey industry is based on introduced bees, these bees depend greatly on native plant species for pollen and nectar. The value to agriculture of 'pollination services' by native insects as well as honeybees is likely to be worth significantly more than this.

    The actual economic and social value of 'ecosystem services' (indirect utilitarian values) is often difficult to calculate. For example, the role of soil organisms in maintaining agricultural production is both poorly known and of obvious economic significance. However, the service values of ecosystems can be highlighted when they become degraded to the point that the economics of restoration are measured in dollar terms. In the mid-1990s the treatment of land degradation in Australia, for example, had direct costs of more than $400 million per year, including treatment for waterlogging, salinity and erosion. More recent estimates by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and National Farmers Federation have put the annual cost of degradation in rural landscapes at a minimum of $2 billion, which is predicted to increase to over $6 billion annually by 2020 if no action is taken (Madden et al. 2000). The recently released report Coordinating Catchment Management (from the bipartisan House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage) recommended that a National Environment Levy be put in place for the next 25 years to help fund programs to address these issues.

    Carbon and biodiversity credits, while still in their infancy, propose to calculate specific dollar values on elements of biodiversity so they can be traded on domestic and international markets. Interest has increased in valuation of non-traded ecological services and assets, especially in the wake of a global study that estimated the economic value of 17 ecosystem services across 16 biomes as between US$16 to 54 trillion (1012) per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year (Costanza et al. 1997). This valuation was, in turn, used to estimate an average value in 1997 for terrestrial Australian ecosystems of US$245 billion per year and for marine ecosystems of US$640 billion per year (Jones & Pittock 1997). Whether such valuations will, first, develop widely accepted methodologies and, second, ever become used routinely in decision making and biodiversity policy, will only become clear with time. It may be that the main use of broad ecosystem service valuations will influence public perceptions rather than, say, feeding into cost-benefit analysis at a project approval level. In Australia, the CSIRO, supported by the Myer Foundation, has commenced a major research project into the valuation of ecosystem services.

    Some native species may be considered to have negative economic value, as a result of reduction in productive capacity of the land. An example is the increase in 'woody weeds' in central and western New South Wales and Queensland (e.g. Senna and Eremophila spp.), although in such cases there may be counterbalancing benefits such as protection of wildlife habitat and soil.

    The use of native species by Indigenous communities

    Some small-scale biodiversity-based industries are significant to small or remote settlements and to Indigenous communities (Australian Senate 1998). The kangaroo industry is one example, as is the Tasmanian Muttonbird (Puffinus tenuirostris) harvest that is carried out largely by Tasmanian Indigenous peoples and is considered to be sustainable. Crocodile 'ranching', where wild young are harvested and then grown in captivity is important to some Indigenous communities in northern Australia, and crocodile 'cruises' for tourists was generating some $2 million of economic activity per year in the mid-1990s. Increased breeding and stocking in recent decades of native fish species, especially Golden Perch (Macuaria ambigua) and Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii), has established several inland empoundment fisheries of considerable local economic importance in mainland eastern Australia. The genetic implications for wild populations of the widespread distribution of these stocks may be an issue.

    Access to biological resources has been the subject of a recent major public inquiry (Voumard 2000). This inquiry gave advice on an access scheme that could be implemented under the EPBC Act. The scheme centred on a benefit-sharing contract which included protection for and valuing of Indigenous knowledge and environmental benefits in the areas from which the resource was obtained. Although the inquiry focused on Commonwealth areas, it recommended that a nationally consistent scheme be developed across all jurisdictions.

    Species known to be changing significantly in distribution [BD Indicator 10.9]

    The Australian environment has undergone, and is still undergoing, significant and often detrimental changes. Threatening processes such as broad-scale land clearance, overharvesting and altered fire regimes would be expected to significantly change the distribution of native species. For example, loss of habitat in southern Australia is associated with a reduction in the range of the Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata).

    Magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata) foraging among Rice Grass (Oryza sp.) and Spike Rush (Eleocharis sp.) at Fogg Dam, Northern Territory

    Magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata) foraging among Rice Grass (Oryza sp.) and Spike Rush (Eleocharis sp.) at Fogg Dam, NT.
    Migrating up to hundreds of kilometres to visit perennial swamps in the dry season, the magpie goose once extended to south-west Victoria, but is now restricted to northern Australia.

    Source: K Benkendorff, University of Wollongong

    At a national scale, the most comprehensive database available on the distribution and relative abundance of native species is on birds (Barrett 2000b). Between 1977 and 1981, 90 000 bird surveys, collected by 3000 volunteers, were entered into computer by hand - and thus the first continental-scale Bird Atlas (referred to as the Field Atlas) was created (Figure 50). Saunders et al. (1998) recommended that a repeat survey be initiated to reflect changes over 20 years. This is underway, and like the Field Atlas, the current version (referred to as the New Atlas) is an Australia-wide, community-based survey being conducted over several years.

    Figure 50: A map of the distribution of 87 595 bird surveys observed at 12 200 unique locations during the Field Atlas (1977-81).
    Sampling along roadways in remote areas is evident during this survey.

     A map of the distribution of 87 595 bird surveys observed at 12 200 unique locations during the Field Atlas (1977-81)

    Source: Birds Australia. Compiled by Acromap, Melbourne

    The two data sets were used to analyse whether there had been significant changes in the distribution of bird species at the national level over 20 years. Although the New Atlas survey is yet to be completed, preliminary analysis (see Analysing changes in bird distribution using data from the Field Atlas (1977-1981) and New Atlas (1998-2000)) has shown changes in the distribution of bird species in southern and eastern Australia. The analysis was confined to these areas as differences in sampling meant that northern Australia has been undersampled in the second Atlas, at least at this point. Other biases include sampling along roads in the more remote parts of Australia (Figure 50) and a bias towards recording common open country birds in the Field Atlas due to differences in sampling techniques used.

    The analysis detected a total of 65 species that appear to display reductions in range between the Field Atlas (1997-81) and the New Atlas (1998-2000). These differences are sufficiently large that they are likely to be biologically important. Of these species, 13 show a substantial and systematic difference between the Field Atlas and the New Atlas surveys (Table 56; Figure 51). The list includes birds of prey, ground birds and water birds, illustrating that a range of changes could be responsible for the major reductions in range.

    Table 56: Bird species that appear to have decreased their range between the Field Atlas (1977-1981) and the New Atlas (1998-2000) surveys
    See also Figure 50 and Analysing changes in bird distribution (1977-1981) and the New Atlas (1998-2000) box below.
    Common name Latin name
    Brush-turkey (Australian) Alectura lathami
    Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis
    Black Kite Milvus migrans
    Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithreptus gularis
    Black Swan Cygnus atratus
    European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
    Fuscous Honeyeater Lichenostomus fuscus
    Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
    Australian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae
    Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax
    White-necked Heron Ardea pacifica
    White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus
    Yellow-billed Spoonbill Platalea flavipes

    Figure 51: Distribution of the Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis), during the Field Atlas (1977-1981) and the New Atlas (1998-2000) showing a decrease in range.

     Distribution of the Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis), during the Field Atlas (1977-1981) and the New Atlas (1998-2000)

    Source: Birds Australia. Compiled by RMIT University

    To try to understand why these 13 species appeared to show major declines in range in the last 20 years, opinions were sought from five specialists from around Australia.

    There was consensus among four specialists that at the national scale the following species (Table 56) had genuinely contracted in their range due to human-related threats: the Brush-turkey (habitat loss and degradation/predation), Australian Bustard (habitat loss and degradation/hunting) (Figure 51), Black-chinned Honeyeater (loss of habitat, especially mature trees), Fuscous Honeyeater (loss of habitat) and the Wedge-tailed Eagle (loss of food, rabbits, due to the calicivirus). Changes in the range of the Black Kite were thought to be related to differences in rainfall between the two Atlas periods. Below average rainfall was recorded over the period of the first survey. During such dry climatic periods, there can be a considerable expansion in the range of bird species in the search for water and prey.

    Three specialists commented on species in southern Australia. Of these, two thought that the decline of the European Goldfinch could be related to the intensification of agriculture and the decline in preferred weed seeds. Changes in agricultural practice were also associated with the Australian Pipit, although one commentator felt that it might be returning to its pre-European range. The raw data for the White-throated Needletail, with the range analysis, picked up a significant decline. One specialist felt that this was an artefact of the differences in sampling between the two Bird Atlases, another that the decline was related to pressures on its habitat in South-East Asia and one-third gave no explanation for the observed pattern. These responses demonstrate that even when there appears to be a major decline in the range of a species, informed opinion about the reasons underlying the change can vary.

    Some introduced species such as the Common Myna (Arcdotheris trisis), Common Blackbird (Turdus merula), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and Spotted Turtle-dove (Streptopelia chinensis) as well as native species able to exploit urban environments such as the Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) and Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) appear to have expanded their range since 1981. While the results on the species that are increasing could be an artefact of the analysis, other sources of information support the results.

    As noted earlier, the analysis undertaken for this report of the Bird Atlas data focused on species in southern Australia. In a separate study, Franklin (1999) used historical data on the distribution of birds to assess change in groups of grain-eating birds in the tropical and subtropical savannas of northern Australia. Twelve of the 49 native and mostly resident species had declined, and three others had increased. One species was thought to be extinct (the Paradise Parrot, Psephotus pulcherrimus), and two taxa were critically endangered. Even though human settlements are sparse in these areas and the intensity of pastoralism is relatively low, these changes demonstrate the potential effect of altered fire and grazing regimes in these northern woodlands.

    Information is becoming increasingly available on changes in distribution of plants and animals at a local and regional level. A relevant example is a recent study on reptiles in central-western New South Wales that showed that two species have vanished from the agricultural landscape. Up to a further nine species were in decline, and may be facing the same fate. Extensive land clearing appears to be the reason for the reduction in the range of these reptiles, with inadequate native vegetation remaining to satisfy their need for food and shelter.

    Analysing changes in bird distribution using data from the Field Atlas (1977-1981) and the New Atlas (1998-2000)

    Bird atlas data were supplied by Birds Australia to analyse changes in the distribution of bird species over 20 years. Two sets of Atlas data were supplied; the first Field Atlas spanned from 26 December 1972 to 30 June 1986, but data used in this analysis were restricted to 1 January 1977 and 31 December 1981. The data set was cleaned of obvious errors. For example, 313 survey sheets plotting at least 30 km offshore were deleted. A total of 87 595 sheets observed at 12 200 unique locations were accepted resulting in 2 649 449 species observations.

    The New Atlas data span the period from 1 January 1998 to 3 July 2000 (data collection is ongoing). A total of 138 surveys plotted more than 30 km offshore of Australia were deleted from the database. Taxonomic variations in the New Atlas were corrected to be consistent with the Field Atlas. Species groupings and species not recognised within Australia were removed from the database. A total of 91 983 New Atlas survey sheets remained, at 50 350 unique locations recording 1 688 204 species observations. The relatively high number of unique locations reflects the higher precision (seconds instead of minutes) of most of the coordinates of the New Atlas surveys. Geographical Positioning System (GPS) was used to position about 60% of New Atlas surveys, whereas none of the Field Atlas records were GPS-based. The distinct sampling patterns along roads in central and northern Australia can be detected in the figures from both Atlases.

    Taxonomic revisions result in some confounding of data between the two observation periods. Species split into two or more species were grouped under a single atlas number. Similarly, subspecies in the Field Atlas more recently revised to full species status were relegated to their original atlas number because the original records were not resolved. There were sufficient data from the two survey periods to include 492 bird species in the analysis out of the approximate total of 750 species recorded. The subset of species was located principally in southern and eastern Australia because areas in northern and inland Australia had considerably lower numbers of surveys in the New Atlas compared with the original Field Atlas. The most likely cause is because at the time of the analysis, data were available only for 2.5 years for the New Atlas compared with five years for the first Atlas. Consequently, comparing species in these undersampled areas would result in apparent changes in distribution that were an artefact of the data collection.

    Number, distribution and abundance of migratory species [BD Indicator 10.10]

    Several Australian animals migrate on a seasonal basis both within Australia and to areas outside the country. These groups include marine mammals such as whales (Figures 52 and 53), turtles, many bird and fish species and eels (see page 4-42 of SoE 1996).

    Figure 52: Distribution, migration and recognised aggregation areas of the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

     Distribution, migration and recognised aggregation areas of the Humpback Whale

    Source: Environmental Information Resources Network

    Figure 53: Distribution, migration and recognised aggregation areas of the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis).

     Distribution, migration and recognised aggregation areas of the Southern Right Whale

    Source: Environmental Information Resources Network

    Perhaps the most impressive migrants that journey to Australia are the shore birds, which are found in shallow water in both coastal and inland wetlands. These birds, which include sandpipers, curlew, snipe and plovers, may fly 2500 km annually as they migrate between the southern and northern hemispheres. Of the 50 species of wading or shore birds that regularly occur in Australia, 33 breed outside Australia in central Asia, Siberia or the Arctic zone of North America (Blakers et al. 1984). One of the important routes that is travelled by these birds is the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which extends from the Arctic Circle through SouthEast Asia to Australia and New Zealand. This Flyway has a series of wetlands that the shorebirds visit to rest and feed before they undertake the next stage of the journey.

    When other bird groups are also considered, over 300 species are known to migrate between Australia and other countries (Birds Australia, pers. comm. 2000). This number includes species that have been recorded outside their normal range (vagrant species), as well as species that are strict migrants, moving regularly from one country to another, often from breeding to non-breeding areas.

    Because the actions of humans in other parts of the world can affect these species, several agreements have been negotiated between the Commonwealth government and the countries where the species migrate. These include the Japan and Australia Migratory Bird Agreement and the China and Australia Migratory Bird Agreement. At the multilateral level, Australia is involved in the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (the Bonn Convention) where they are taking the lead negotiating a regional albatross conservation agreement (see Albatross and bycatch policy).

    Some bird species also migrate within Australia. The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) is an endangered bird species that only breeds in Tasmania, but migrates to the mainland for autumn-winter (March-August). This is a telling example of the threats posed to migratory species. In Tasmania, the birds are almost always associated with Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) or Swamp Gum (Eucalyptus ovata) (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Both of these habitats have been reduced as a result of clearing for agriculture, residential development and intensive forestry practices. The Sharmans of Spreyton in Tasmania led community tree-planting programs to reverse the loss of habitat trees and sources of food for the Swift Parrot. On the mainland, clearance for agriculture and residential development have destroyed over 70% of the bird's habitat (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Climate change also poses a further threat to this species (see Figure 30).

    Demographic characteristics of target taxa [BD Indicator 10.11]

    This indicator was not reported on.