Protecting biodiversity

AUSTRALIAN RINGNECK, BUNKERS CONSERVATION RESERVE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA | Nick Rains

The National Reserve System is Australia's premier investment in biodiversity conservation.

Australia is a megadiverse country, one of the most biologically rich countries in the world. There are 17 megadiverse countries, comprising a mere 10 per cent of the earth's surface, but together accounting for more than 70 per cent of its biodiversity.

Australia is home to between 600,000 and 700,000 species - 9.6 per cent of all species known to man. 84 per cent of our plant species, 83 per cent of our mammals, and 45 per cent of our birds are endemic, or unique to Australia. Our isolated island location and low rainfall has given us the highest reptile diversity in the world, with 89 per cent found nowhere else.

The kangaroo, koala, platypus, wombat, echidna, kookaburra and emu are international symbols, but among the less recognised endemic fauna are freshwater crocodiles, 13 turtle species, unusual lizards such as the thorny devil, bearded dragon, knob-tailed gecko and goanna and unique marsupials such as the numbat and the marsupial mole. Among our birdlife, Australia is renowned for its parrots, with 53 species of spectacular rosellas, lorikeets and cockatoos.

Since European settlement, more than 50 species of Australian animals and over 60 species of Australian plants are known to have become extinct. Through landclearing, grazing, the introduction of exotic weeds and pests, urban development, changed fire regimes, agriculture and irrigation, human settlers have taken their toll. In the face of continuing human pressures, the National Reserve System is working to conserve Australia's remaining biodiversity. The aim is to protect examples of the full range of ecosystems, with their distinctive flora, fauna and landscapes, in protected areas across the continent.

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