Australia is an internationally renowned biological treasure, one of 17 “mega-diverse” countries. Our national responsibility for The Australian continent is home to highly distinctive and diverse plants and animals — around 90 per cent of Australian mammals, frogs, reptiles and plants are found nowhere else. With so many unique species, we have an important national responsibility to maintain the planet’s biological diversity.
Yet the health of our soils, the extent and condition of our vegetation, and Australia’s biodiversity have severely declined across much of the country.
Carbon levels in Australia’s soils — important for nutrient cycling, water and carbon storage, and soil structure — have been depleted. About half of Australia’s agriculturally productive soils are affected by acidification, some 6 million hectares are affected by dryland salinity, and rates of soil erosion are exceeding the rates of soil formation.
Similarly, the extent and condition of vegetation are deteriorating. Since European colonisation, more than 40% of the forests and woodlands have been cleared. Much of what remains is degraded and fragmented. Invasive species, altered fire regimes, pastoralism, droughts and cyclones have also caused vegetation health to decline.
Australia has a shocking extinction record.Since European colonisation, we have lost at least 36 plant and 51 vertebrate animal species. About 1800 species are listed as nationally threatened, and without a substantial increase in conservation effort, seven mammals and 10 birds are projected to die out over the next 20 years.
The top five pressures affecting land and terrestrial biodiversity are invasive species, land clearing and degradation, inappropriate fire regimes, livestock production and global climate change, the latter being the most pervasive, least understood and least predictable of threats.
Returning our land and biodiversity to health will require changes in laws, policies, institutions and programs, and in people’s behaviours, values and support for conservation. Solutions have already been identified in numerous plans and strategies — our challenge is to compel enough investment, participation and motivation to implement these plans.
To better protect Australia’s land and biodiversity we need to:
- recover threatened biodiversity
- abate major threats
- expand and manage Australia’s reserve system
- support Indigenous land management
- monitor and regularly report on land and biodiversity to measure progress and prioritise conservation; and scale up funding.