EXPERTS say Australia’s environment faces a ‘sliding door’ moment, with two possible futures for the nation, depending on decisions made today.
A new report, Fighting Plagues and Predators Australia’s Path to a Pest and Weed Free Future, highlights an impending wave of new extinctions and describes two futures for Australia.
One is based on an unsustainable “business as usual” approach. In this scenario, more unique flora and fauna risk disappearing by 2050, unless urgent action is taken.
The other is to implement targeted actions that will help save Australia’s unique biodiversity.
Billions of dollars in damage
The report released today puts the conservative cost of damage caused by invasive species in Australia – primarily weeds, feral cats, rabbits and fire ants – at $ 390 billion over the past six decades and to about $ 25 billion a year and growing.
Simply put, eight out of ten nationally listed threatened species are threatened by invasive species.
Over 70 percent of Australia’s native animals are found nowhere else on earth, so a loss to Australia is a loss to the world.
They also undermine agriculture, leading to higher prices for food and fiber.
Launched by Australian national science agency CSIRO and the Center for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), the report highlights the need to accelerate emerging biosafety technologies and the urgent development of new techniques to prevent, eradicate and control invasive pests.
The report’s co-author, CSIRO scientist Dr Andy Sheppard, said while many Australians were aware of the devastation caused by recent mouse invasions in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, they did not ‘had no idea the extent of the invasive species problem for Australia.
“Urgent, decisive and coordinated action is crucial to stop the spread of invasive species and protect our extraordinary and irreplaceable native animals and plants, and Australia has a strong record in this space,” said Dr Sheppard.
“It’s the only way to stop the spread of invasive species, protect native plants and animals, and preserve many of our favorite Australian outdoor pastimes.”
Dr Sheppard said many more smart decisions and interventions are needed to ensure resources are invested where they are most effective.
“Prevention will be much cheaper and more effective than trying to control the spread of pests and weeds once they are established.
Prevention will be much cheaper and more effective than trying to control the spread of pests and weeds once they are established.
“We need to safely harness emerging technologies, revitalize our biosafety research and innovation (R&I) system, and continue to invest in long-term strategic research and development,” he said.
Globally, invasive species are ranked as the fifth most important problem facing the environment, but in Australia it is the number one problem.
Australia has the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world.
CISS co-author and CEO Andreas Glanznig said the report offered a path to a pest and weed-proof Australia and showed that every Australian had a role to play in achieving this result.
“Invasive species have contributed to the extinction of 79 native Australian species,” Glanznig said.
The biggest vertebrate threat to native species is the European rabbit, which infests two-thirds of Australia, followed by feral cats, pigs, foxes and toads.
The report recommends Australia to focus more on breakthrough solutions for key wildlife – rodents, cats and feral pigs – over the next 30 years.
In addition to the destruction caused by introduced animals, invasive plants wreak havoc on farmlands, forests and savannas.
2,700 weed species
Australia now has more than 2,700 established weed species – which have grown 20 new species each year – or a new weed every 18 days.
Climate change, international trade and travel, as well as extreme weather events such as floods, fires and drought, have fostered the spread of invasive species.
“The challenge is for all Australians to work together to prevent the problem from escalating,” Glanznig said.
“Together, we can work to reduce the rate of extinction of Australia’s native species – currently over four species per decade – towards zero net extinction.
“From suburban backyards to science labs, everyone can play a role in pest and weed prevention and control,” he said.
“Education and public awareness programs are needed so that we can enlist millions of Australians to help find and eradicate invasive species before they take hold.
“The technology exists to establish a national, coordinated community surveillance network, allowing everyone to get involved, to help find new invaders early before they become a problem.”
MORE READING: ‘Biodiversity market expected by the end of the year‘.
MORE READING: “Weather, Mice Throw Double Barrel Mycotoxin Challenge”.
MORE READING: “Bromadiolone Is Not The Answer To The Plague Of Mice”.
Want to get daily news highlights delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to Queensland Country Life bulletin below.