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Species extinctions

Scientists are describing what’s happening around us as the ‘sixth great species extinction’.

This is the worst time for species disappearing since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

Unlike previous mass-extinction events (caused by asteroid strikes, volcanoes or natural climate shifts), this one is predominantly caused by humans. Activities such as land clearing and habitat destruction, introduction of invasive feral species interrupting natural ecosystems and pollution events, such as greenhouse gasses creating climate change, are driving this trend.

The endangered northern quoll. Photo: Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.


The Red List (of the world's endangered species) produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) shows Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinction of any developed country.1

Our endemic species

Our geographic isolation has meant that over many millennia native flora and fauna have evolved to be uniquely adapted to Australia's landscapes.

Over 90% of our plant species, 87% of our mammals and 45% of birds are endemic to the country (found nowhere else).2

The Robust Greenhood Orchid, thought to be extinct for 70 years, was rediscovered on our Nardoo Hills Reserve. Photo:  Jeroen van Veen.

They've adapted to a diverse range of complex habitats.

When in a healthy condition Australian ecosystems are often highly resilient and able to recover from fire, droughts, floods and extreme weather. 

But over the past 200 years human activities have seen much of our native vegetation destroyed or degraded. About 90% in the eastern temperate zone has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation.

About 50% of our rainforests have been cleared and land covered by forest or woodland reduced by more than a third.3

In addition, climate change is creating conditions in which more extreme weather events are occurring, testing resilience.

Our most urgent challenge is to respond before it's too late. It falls to each of us to ensure the natural heritage of our country is secured and protected in our generation.

1. ABC Fact Check

2. Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World, Aus Govt, Arthur D. Chapman, 2009.

3. Australian Productivity Commission: Creating Markets for Biodiversity.

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