Issue 10
Monday, 03 December 2018
Charles Darwin University
Professor Stephen Garnett:
Professor Stephen Garnett:"only about a quarter of the threats are being well managed"

Understanding problems facing threatened birds

Research led by CDU has investigated how well we understand the major threats to Australia’s 216 threatened birds and how well those threats are being dealt with.

Lead researcher Professor Stephen Garnett said the results were both encouraging and daunting. 

“In Australia we have a good understanding of how to manage about half (52 per cent) of the threats that threatened birds are facing, but are pretty ignorant about how to deal with the other 48 per cent,” Professor Garnett said.

“We also found that only about a quarter of the threats are being well managed.”

The findings are part of research, published in Conservation Biology, which has developed a new way of measuring conservation progress that looks at what is known about threats and how well they are being dealt with.

The research team included a dozen Australian universities as well as the universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the UK, senior scientists from four of the world’s largest conservation organisations, management agencies and private scientists.

“Applying this assessment to all threatened Australian birds has highlighted which threats need attention most urgently,” Professor Garnett said.

“Until now introduced species, particularly cats, have posed the greatest threat. 

“In future climate change will become a big issue. About half of all threatened birds are likely to be affected by increases in sea levels, heat, fire and droughts.

“Drought and fire are nothing new to Australian birds. But the frequency and intensity will be beyond what they have previously coped with,” Professor Garnett said.

The assessment first scored knowledge of how to manage each threat a species faces then the effectiveness of efforts made so far. The work on birds shows a strong relationship between the two.

Research team member and Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy, Professor Hugh Possingham said that without research on a threat, money spent attempting management would probably be wasted.

“With research, action can be swift and effective. Our work suggests that action before knowledge will squander money,” Professor Possingham said.

Director of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, Professor Brendan Wintle said the assessment measures could aid the management of other threatened species, not just birds.

“Governments need to know their investments in threatened species are having a quantifiable benefit,” Professor Wintle from the University of Melbourne said.

“At the same time, they need to know the size of the task ahead. With this approach we can tell them both.”