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
This section reports on the following environmental indicators, which are defined in Saunders et al. (1998).
|BD 14||Proportion of bioregions covered by biological surveys|
|BD 24.1||Number of species described per reporting cycle|
|BD 24.2||Number of taxonomists involved per reporting cycle|
|BD 24.3||Amount of funding for taxonomy|
|BD 24.4||Number of research programs into surrogates|
|BD 24.5||Number of research programs into the role of biodiversity in ecological processes|
|BD 24.6||Number of long-term ecological monitoring sites|
In order to sustainably manage Australian landscapes for both conservation and production purposes, there needs to be improvement in our understanding of the various elements of biodiversity. The previous sections illustrated how our understanding of even the most basic measure of biodiversity, the number of species, is poorly lacking.
Number of taxonomists and species described [BD Indicators 24.1 and 24.2]
Results of the ABRS survey indicate that there were around 185 taxonomists working in Australia in June 2000 (Table 58; Figure 54). These figures capture roughly 75% of the taxonomic endeavour in Australia, due to non-respondents and private collectors from Australia and other countries not covered by the survey. All Australian institutions known to hold major collections were contacted, including museums, herbaria and universities. Taxonomists described about 2300 new species and 240 new genera between 1 July 1995 and 30 June 1999 (Table 58). Roughly two-thirds of the taxonomic effort was expended on animals and one-third on plants. There is currently no-one working on many of the taxa in Australia (some groups are being handled in other countries on a world basis).
Figure 54: The percentage of taxonomists working on each taxon out of the total number of taxonomists and the percentage of undescribed taxa remaining in each taxon, in June 2000.
This figure demonstrates the paucity of information available for most native species in Australia. The category 'worms' includes annelid worms, flatworms, roundworms, velvet worms and thornyheaded worms.
Source: ABRS; see text for further details about the plant and animal survey that formed the basis of these figures
|Group||No. of taxonomists working on each taxon in July 2000||No. of institutions working on each taxon||New
|New Australian species|
|Protoctistae (Unicellular organisms)|
|Fungi (excluding lichens)||3.7||6||-||132|
|Vascular plants (flowering plants, cycads, conifers, ferns and fern allies)||50||18||3||500|
|Bryophyta (mosses and allies)||4.9||7|
|Total Australian Flora (Plants and Fungi)||65||-||4||667|
|Cnidaria (corals, anemones, jellyfish)||2.2||2||16||34|
|Platyhelminthes (flatworms, parasites)||2||1||9||52|
|Acanthocephala (thorny headed worms)||0.2||1||1||1|
|Nematoda (roundworms, threadworms)||4.9||6||5||45|
|Mollusca (squid, octopus, mussels, clams, snails)||8.1||8||4||75|
|Annelida (ringed worms, earthworms)||3||2||4||37|
|Onychophora (velvet worms)||0.5||1|
|Crustacea (crayfish, crabs, prawns etc.)||16.7||10||20||107|
|Arachnida (spiders, mites etc.)||10.5||10||31||242|
|Tunicata (sea squirts, doliolids, salps)||1||1||2||2|
|Reptilia (snakes, lizards)||6||5||2||26|
|Total Australian Fauna||115||-||235||1 664|
Source: figures are derived from a survey of taxonomists in Australia, conducted by the ABRS (see text).
Among the plants, vascular plants were the main focus. Fungi are expected to be far more numerous than vascular plants, but only about 6% of the total taxonomic effort was directed towards fungi, compared to about 75% of the effort on vascular plants. Among the animals, slightly more than one-half of the effort was directed towards the most numerous taxa (insects, arachnids and crustaceans). Just fewer than 20% of the effort was directed towards vertebrates, which make up less than 1% of all animal species.
The mismatch between effort and the amount of outstanding work is apparent in Figure 54. Fungi in particular are underresourced, relative to other taxa, when the total numbers of undescribed taxa are taken into account. Fungi are important in ecosystem services and biogeochemical cycles making them just as important as vascular plants from a utilitarian perspective. The ABRS lists them as a high priority. Part of the difficulty is the lack of taxonomists in these areas and lack of people willing to work in them. Similarly, taxonomic priorities among animals reflect to some extent social and immediate economic imperatives, rather than ecological ones.
Funding for taxonomy [BD Indicator 24.3]
Taxonomic work was undertaken by 57 different institutions in all states and territories (Table 59). The funding for this work comes from Commonwealth and state institutional support, and it occurs in museums and herbaria, state and Commonwealth regulatory agencies, and tertiary research and teaching institutions. Despite the significant gaps in taxonomic effort in Australia, the budget for the ABRS, which is producing the multivolumed Flora of Australia and Fauna of Australia, was cut by $400 000 in the 1999-2000 financial year. Fourteen Large Research Grants were awarded from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for taxonomic research between 1997 and 2000 (Table 60).
|Australian Capital Territory||3||3||5|
|New South Wales||6||8||11|
Source: figures are derived from a survey of taxonomists in Australia, conducted by the ABRS (see text and Table 58).
|Year||Number of grants||Amount ($)||Groups|
|2000||2||297 500||Davesia, insects (ordinal relationships)|
|1999||1||140 000||Doryctine wasps|
|1998||6||1 238 000||Hymenoptera, crabs, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, Trematodes|
|1997||5||830 000||Caenogastropod molluscs, Eucalyptus, gall-forming thrips, Styhelieae, Cockroaches (Paratemnopteryx)|