Australian plants most at risk of extinction – and how to save them

 

The odds do not favor the slender-nerved Acacia ( Acacia Leptoneura), a spiny plant with classic yellow-ball-wattle flowers. It was extinct after Western Australia’s Wheat Belt habitat was cleared for agriculture.

Only two plants are currently known, and they’re not in the same area. This is one of many endangered Australian plants.

We have compiled a huge evidence base of more than 750 plants listed as endangered or critically endangered to help stop the loss of native species. We have identified 50 species that are most at risk of extinction.

We have the skills and knowledge to save most imperiled plants. The action plan we have created is relatively simple to implement but will require long-term funding.

What is causing the loss?

There are 1,384 species of plants and subspecies that have been listed as endangered at a national level. Twelve Australian species of plants are listed as possibly extinct. Twenty-one other species are possibly extinct. Two hundred six species are officially listed in the category of critically endangered.

The First Nations people of Australia first used Australian plants at least 60,000 years. However, since European colonization, they have been plagued by various threats.

Many species have suffered from the effects of land clearing, introductions of exotic animals and plants, and flooding and fire patterns disruptions. This is especially true in the densely populated areas of the continent’s eastern and southern regions.

Things aren’t getting better. Recently, scientists conducted long-term monitoring of more than 100 endangered plant species at 600 locations. They found that the population had decreased on average by 72% between 1995-2017

This steep decline rate is far higher than the threatened bird or mammal population’s rate.

On the brink

Many threatened species are not receiving targeted conservation actions or baseline monitoring. This is why it was an important step in preventing extinctions.

We looked at all published and unpublished information and expert surveys by over 120 botanists and land managers to determine the top 50. Our Action plan for Australia’s Imperilled Plants targets them.

Thirty-five of the species included in the plan still have less than 50 mature plants.

Thirty-three of them is only known from one location, like the Grampians Pincushion-lilyBorya Mirabilis), located on one rocky outcrop at Victoria. The entire population could be decimated by one event, such as a major bushfire.

How can we help them?

We have suggested some common management actions:

  • Preventing further loss of habitat for species. This is the most crucial action needed at a national level.
  • Regular monitoring of populations is important to understand how they respond to threats and manage them.
  • Safely testing fire management strategies, such as burning in areas closed off to other fires.
  • It is worth investing in disease management and research to combat the threat from phytophthora (root rot fungus) and myrtle-rust (which can cause leaf damage).
  • Moving and propagating species to increase the number of wild populations or genetic diversity.
  • Protecting plants from browsing and grazing animals like feral goats or rabbits and native animals like kangaroos is important.
  • A lack of recruitment is another common problem. This means that there are no new plants to replace those who have died. Sometimes, this happens because the processes that caused these plants to flower and release seeds or germinated are not occurring anymore. This could include fires of a certain intensity or the right time.
  • We don’t know the triggers for certain plants, so further research is necessary to determine this.

Now, we need to have political will.

  • The plan is intended for all those involved in threatened flora administration, including First Nations, environmental and community conservation groups, federal, state, territorial, and local government groups, and anyone who has one of these plants on their property. More than 90% of Australia’s plant species can be found nowhere else. They are also the backbone of ecosystems and provide rich habitats for iconic fauna. Every day, plants enrich and support our lives.

 

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