A ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) © Helen Cunningham

A ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) © Helen Cunningham

Global wildlife populations fall 69%, Australia records localised extinctions

13 Oct 2022

Keywords
  • birds
  • marine turtles

The World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report 2022 reveals monitored global wildlife populations fell by 69%, on average, between 1970 and 2018, while some Australian populations have disappeared.

 

The Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), uses datasets from almost 32,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.

 

Monitored freshwater populations have fallen by an average of 83%, the largest decline of any species group. Perth’s western swamp tortoise is one of the freshwater populations captured in the Living Planet Index. This year nearly 200 zoo-bred western swampies were released into the wild to bolster one of the world’s rarest reptiles.

 

Monitored populations in Latin America and the Caribbean showed an average drop of 94% since 1970, the greatest regional decline.

 

Australia is included in the Asia Pacific region where monitored populations fell by 55%. A prominent example is the western Pacific leatherback sea turtle, whose last nesting stronghold is in Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Peninsula, but the estimated number of nests has declined by nearly 80% in 27 years.

 

A Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) digging a nest © naturepl.com / Konrad Wothe / WWF

 

CEO of WWF-Australia Dermot O’Gorman said a key theme in the 14th edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication is the connection between nature’s decline and climate change.

 

“We now face the interlinked emergencies of human-induced climate change and the loss of biodiversity. We must tackle both crises together,” Mr O’Gorman said.

 

“Climate change was already impacting people and nature in Australia as evidenced by the death of more than 45,000 flying foxes in a single hot day in 2014.

 

“Then came the 2019-2020 mega fires and the record 2022 eastern Australia floods, both made more severe by climate change. These disasters devastated communities and many populations of species.

 

“Locally, our focus remains Regenerate Australia – the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in the nation’s history.

 

“Australia recently set a long-overdue Zero New Extinctions target. It will be important to follow that up with increased funding in the next federal budget in light of the continued decline and staggering losses highlighted in the Living Planet Report.

 

“For Australia and the world, simply halting biodiversity loss is not enough; we need a nature-positive goal which means reversing the loss of nature.

 

“At the COP15 biodiversity conference this December leaders have an opportunity to commit to a ‘Paris-style’ agreement to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive world,” Mr O’Gorman said.

 

Australian species populations from the LPI

New Holland Mouse, now known as the Pookila
Continued camera and live trapping surveys (including in 2022) have failed to record any Pookilas in the eastern Otway Ranges 100 km south-west of Melbourne, even at sites that once supported high numbers.

 

During six years of above average rainfall, Pookila numbers increased sharply, but then came the ‘millennium drought’ – partly the result of climate change. It’s likely the drought slashed the Pookilas’ food supplies.

 

Adults died before and during breeding seasons and fewer juveniles survived causing a steep decline and extinction of the Otway Ranges population.

 

Pookilas have not been recorded in the Otway Ranges since 2003. Seven of the known Victorian populations have become extinct in recent decades.

 

“Captive breeding now appears to be the best hope for the species,” said Dr Barbara Wilson, Hon. Associate Professor in Ecology, Deakin University, and a member of the Pookila national recovery team.

 

A Pookila, formerly known as the New Holland mouse © Bruce Thomson

Ruddy Turnstone

In February 1988, 200 ruddy turnstones, a migratory shorebird, were counted in George Town in north-east Tasmania. In June 2019 only three birds were tallied and none have been recorded since then.

 

The destruction of coastal wetlands in the Yellow Sea, where ruddy turnstones and other migratory shorebirds refuel, is impacting many species.

 

Ralph Cooper from BirdLife Tasmania has records for George Town stretching back to 1973 and has also seen other shorebird species disappear. “The decline is not stopping that’s the problem,” he said.

 

Ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres) fighting © Helen Cunningham

Australian sea lion

There has been an estimated 64% decline in the number of Australian sea lion pups born each breeding season between 1977 and 2019 in South and Western Australia.

 

“Our research has identified that populations are declining at an alarming rate,” said Professor Simon Goldsworthy from the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

 

Half of all breeding sites produce fewer than 15 pups each breeding season.

 

“The large number of small, declining and genetically isolated populations presents enormous challenges for species recovery, and makes the Australian sea lion one of the rarest and most vulnerable seal species globally,” he said.

 

Measures to reduce the number of sea lions drowning in gillnet and lobster fisheries were introduced a decade ago and have been effective in some fishing sectors. Other threats include entanglement in marine debris, disease, pollution, and sea level rise linked to climate change, which could inundate many low-lying breeding colonies.

 

“The national recovery plan for the species is being updated next year, and represents a critical opportunity to prioritise actions to support recovering Australia’s only endemic marine mammal,” said Prof Goldsworthy.

 

Two Australian sea lions huddled under tree branches © Simon Goldsworthy (SARDI)

Indigenous water knowledge


The LPR report makes clear that delivering a nature-positive future will not be possible without recognising and respecting the rights, governance, and conservation leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world.

 

Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge, a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation, a researcher in Indigenous Water Science, and a WWF-Australia Governor has contributed a section on Indigenous water knowledge.

 

Associate Professor Moggridge said Indigenous Peoples’ connection to water is strong and has been crucial to survival on a dry continent.

 

“Indigenous knowledge, acquired over countless generations, can inform and compliment western science,” Associate Professor Moggridge said.

 

“If Indigenous knowledge was incorporated into water planning, Australians would benefit through the protection and recognition of different types of flows.

 

“Indigenous Australians will keep working hard to have their voices heard and their knowledge put to good use for the benefit of all,” he said.

 

About Regenerate Australia

WWF’s Regenerate Australia is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history. Launched by WWF-Australia in October 2020, the multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and help to future-proof Australia against the impacts of changing climate. Find out more and help Regenerate Australia at www.wwf.org.au/regenerate-australia


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