The action plan for Australian reptiles

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H G Cogger, E E Cameron, R A Sadlier, P Eggler
The Director of National Parks and Wildlife
Australian Nature Conservation Agency, December 1993

ISBN 0 642 16803 2

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Please Note: Under the EPBC Act new categories have been added for listed threatened species and ecological communities. 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.

Executive summary

Of Australia's diverse reptile fauna comprising some 765 species, 204 species or subspecies or geographically-discrete populations (henceforth collectively called "species") have been nominated by conservation agencies and individuals as warranting threatened status and requiring management actions to slow or halt the processes which are threatening their survival. This represents about 25% of Australia's reptile fauna.

The authors have reviewed the knowledge available on these species in consultation with a panel of representative herpetologists, and recommend 11 species for Endangered status and 41 species for Vulnerable status. A further 152 species are recommended for Rare or Insufficiently Known status.

Ranking of threatened taxa was achieved by use of a modified version of a system developed by Millsap et al. (1990) for the vertebrate fauna of Florida. Initially trialed in a national workshop of representative herpetologists, this system was adopted when found to reliably rank threatened species on the limited data available for Australian reptiles.

It is recommended that all the species assigned Endangered or Vulnerable status in this Action Plan be included on the ANZECC List of Endangered Vertebrate Fauna and on the gazetted schedules of relevant Federal, State and Territory conservation agencies.

Recovery outlines have been prepared for all Endangered and Vulnerable species except marine turtles. The outlines summarise current knowledge of the conservation status, distribution, habitats and threats to each species. They also review current research and management actions and identify gaps in the knowledge needed to effectively manage and conserve these species, and list the actions (together with their costs) needed to reduce or eliminate the current threats and ensure secure status for the species on and off reserves.

Families with the highest proportion of Endangered and Vulnerable species are the marine turtles (Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae), the freshwater tortoises or turtles (Chelidae) and the Legless Lizards (Pygopodidae).

Western Australia, followed by Queensland and New South Wales, has the highest number of species in the Endangered and Vulnerable categories.

The WORLDMAP software package, using a variety of biodiversity measures to analyse the distribution of Endangered and Vulnerable terrestrial reptiles, identifies 13 areas (at a resolution of 2° of latitude and longitude) that collectively contain the highest biodiversity of this subset of species. It is recommended that priority be given to these areas in the allocation of national conservation resources and in the establishment and management of reserves by State and Territory conservation agencies.

The class of habitat with the greatest number of reptiles at risk is "isolated rocky outcrops" which includes small offshore islands. Other habitats with high numbers of Endangered or Vulnerable species are open woodland, woodland, tussock grassland and heathland.

The threatening processes identified in this review as affecting the greatest number of species, are habitat clearance or modification, overgrazing by stock, cropping, urban development, and predation by introduced mammals (principally foxes, cats and rats).

This review has highlighted the dearth of knowledge on the distribution, biology and ecology of Australia's reptiles, with the result that 85% of the $4,848,900 required to implement the recommended actions is assigned to these basic areas of research.