Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006
Australia’s biodiversity is distinctive because of the country’s size, isolation, naturally fragmented landscapes and long-term climate variability. For example, about 80 per cent of vertebrate species and plant species are found nowhere else in the world. Many of Australia’s ecological communities have a low resilience to external pressures, particularly those that have already been extensively modified, such as in the wheat–sheep belt and semi-arid areas, where many species have suffered a significant decline in numbers and range and even extinction.
Australia’s most vulnerable ecosystems have been the first to suffer massive biodiversity decline but this does not mean that other systems will not follow. It is only a question of how long it will be before pressures will overwhelm the resilience of the remaining ecosystems. This issue of decline is now recognised by Australian farmers and others in the community, and it is increasingly being incorporated into the evolving natural resource management response.
The value being placed on Australia’s biodiversity is seen in the community’s recognition that it is part of the nation’s natural heritage. People are starting to value biodiversity for its own sake. This is reflected in the large response by governments in protecting Australia’s biodiversity through the EPBC Act and through the National Heritage Trust (NHT) and other funding.
Loss of biodiversity is continuing to have a significant impact on the traditional practices and beliefs of Indigenous people. Traditional customs place great emphasis on ‘caring for country’ and maintaining its biodiversity. Decline and loss of species are having an effect on Indigenous culture and heritage, and it is reducing the amount of bush tucker available in many areas (see ‘Natural and cultural heritage’).
The definition of an ecological community in the EPBC Act is: ‘an assemblage of native species that: (a) inhabits a particular area in nature; and (b) meets the additional criteria specified in the regulations (if any) made for the purposes of this definition’.