At a glance
The economic and social wealth of Tasmania is inextricably linked to its natural resource base. Maintaining Tasmania's wealth requires that its diversity of species, ecological communities and ecosystems remain healthy and viable and that the resource base be carefully managed in a sustainable manner. Threatened species and threatened ecological communities (i.e. assemblages of plants and/or animals) are those that are at risk of extinction in the wild. Since European colonisation in 1803, 33 species are known to have become extinct in Tasmania (24 plants, 9 animals). Species believed to be extinct are sometimes rediscovered, but it is not known how many species have become extinct without ever being discovered. The number of extinct ecological communities is unknown.
The key threatening processes pushing Tasmania's species and ecological communities towards extinction are native vegetation clearance; pests, weeds and diseases; degradation of water and soil systems; inappropriate use of fire; bycatch; firewood collection; inappropriate grazing regimes; urban development; and a wide range of other land management practices.
Threatened species and/or ecological communities are recognised under two Acts, which apply in Tasmania. The Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides for listing of both threatened species ecological communities, while the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 provides for listing of threatened species only.
This 'At a glance' section provides an overview of the issue of threatened species and ecological communities. More detailed information is available in the Threatened Species and Ecological Communities Issue Report. Indicators are presented in this issue report, covering specific threatened species and ecological communities, recovery plans required under legislation, research, listing statements, critical habitat determinations, monitoring programs, and interim protection orders.
Recommendations related to this issue include Threatened Species and Ecological Communities and Native Vegetation.
- Since 1996, 50 threatened species have been monitored to determine trends (see Number of Threatened Species with Monitoring Programs to Determine Trends). The DPIWE, the Forest Practices Board, Forestry Tasmania, and the CSIRO Division of Marine Research have undertaken monitoring.
- The Threatened Species Strategy was prepared by DPIWE in 2000 to ensure that threatened species can survive and flourish in the wild and that their habitats retain their genetic diversity and potential for evolutionary development. It also seeks to prevent further species becoming threatened. The Strategy has been finalised, although there has been no formal State Government response to the Strategy.
- Tasmania's Nature Conservation Strategy was developed by the State Biodiversity Committee in 2001. It is an action plan to protect Tasmania's natural diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems (download Tasmania's Nature Conservation Strategy). The State Government has formally responded to the each of the recommendations in the Strategy (download the State Government response).
- Off-reserve conservation management is increasingly being used as an adjunct to the reserve network in the eastern, central and northern parts of the State where land clearing has been greatest. The reserve network does not protect native species and ecological communities at adequate levels in these regions, with many species and ecological communities occurring almost entirely on freehold land.
- Establishment of conservation reserves on freehold land, mostly through negotiation with landowners of convenants on title to secure conservation values in perpetuity, is playing a significant role in increasing the comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness of the reserve system. The Private Forest Reserves Program has protected about 30,000ha of forested land, mostly of threatened forest communities and species, while the Protected Areas on Private Land Program has protected a small number of areas of threatened non-forest ecological communities.
- The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (1997) established a permanent forest estate policy that sets minimum thresholds of forest communities to be retained. Pending completion of a review of the policy, approvals for clearing of ecological communities (both forest and non-forest), which are listed as endangered, vulnerable or rare, have been suspended by the Forest Practices Board. The Scientific Advisory Group for the Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative Reserve System (CARSAG) reviewed the current policy thresholds and recommended a revised framework to determine retention levels (CARSAG 2001).
- Between 1997-2003 the Threatened Species Unit administered a total of 32 separate threatened species programs (16 fauna, 14 flora and 2 threat abatement) with an average annual budget of $300,000 from the Australian Government. Of these programs, 19 have involved writing or implementing National or State recovery plans covering 128 threatened species. These comprise 8 flora recovery plans covering 98 species, and 11 fauna recovery plans covering 30 species, although multi-species and regional plans have also been produced. On average around 25 submissions for nominations onto legislation have been processed annually and a complete review of the listed species has been undertaken.
- A new database has been created and verified by the Threatened Species Unit, which has enabled the processing of up to eight queries per week for development applications. Newsletters like the RAVES Newsletter, Trumped Up Corella, Swifts Across the Strait, notesheets, reports, posters and public education material have been produced and featured widely in the media.
- The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has been used in the assessment of a number of projects affecting threatened species, in particular, infrastructure development projects such as Duke Energy Pipeline, wind farms in north west and north east Tasmania, and the proposed Meander Dam. The determination of these developments as 'controlled actions' under the Act led to a more integrated assessment of impacts designed to satisfy State and Commonwealth requirements.
- Flora: As at November 2002, 454 species of plants are listed as threatened on the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Nearly one-third (29% or 272 of 958) of Tasmania's broadleaf plants are threatened, of which 79 are endemic (confined to an area - Tasmania in this case). Twenty-seven per cent (159 of 585) of grasses, sedges, lilies, and orchids are threatened, of which 46 are endemic. Two of Tasmania's 11 conifer species (18%) are threatened, both of which are endemic. Eighteen of Tasmania's 99 fern species (18%) are threatened, three of which are endemic.
- Fauna: Eleven per cent (10 of 86) of Tasmania's mammal species are listed as threatened under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Of these, one is extinct (Tasmanian Tiger), six are endangered (likely to become extinct, such as the New Holland Mouse and the Southern Right Whale), two are rare (New Zealand Fur Seal and Spotted-tailed Quoll) and one is vulnerable (Fin Whale). Of the 203 native birds in Tasmania 32 (16%) are threatened. Eight species of Tasmania's reptiles are threatened. Fourteen species of fish are threatened, of which 10 are freshwater species. One-hundred and twenty one species of invertebrates are listed as threatened, representing a wide variety of forms and including some distinct ecosystem assemblages (e.g. Great Lake invertebrates).
- Between 1996-01, recovery plans were prepared for 12% of the 601 species (excluding extinct species) listed on the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Recovery plans were prepared for 34% of the 109 Tasmanian species listed on the Australian Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in 2001. Recovery plans are a requirement of the Australian Government legislation, but not a requirement under the threatened species legislation in Tasmania, although there is a process for recovery plans.
- In 2001, only five of the 601 (<1%) species (excluding extinct species) listed as threatened on the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 had ex-situ research (outside the original habitat) programs. Presently, ex situ conservation is not a requirement under either the State or Australian Government threatened species legislation. However, ex situ conservation may be identified as an action within the Recovery Plan process of a species.
- The introduction of the European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) will, if unchecked, result in a significant increase in the number of threatened species in Tasmania. The group likely to be most affected are Critical Weight Range mammals (Burbidge and McKenzie 1989) such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot and Tasmanian Bettong. Critical Weight Range mammals represent the bulk of Australian mammal extinctions, with the Red Fox identified as a pivotal cause. Establishment of Red Fox populations will produce pressure to increase limited resources for conservation and require difficult decisions to be made between an expanding list of conservation priorities.
- The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (1997) recognised 18 of the 50 mapped forest communities as threatened in Tasmania, in the categories of Rare, Endangered and Vulnerable. A further 41 of the 120 non-forest ecological communities, derived from the TASVEG and World Heritage Area mapping programs, have also been recognised as being threatened on a Statewide basis. However, neither the forest nor the non-forest communities presently have any statutory recognition of their status.
- Threatened ecological communities occur Statewide but are particularly concentrated on King Island, the north-west, south-east and midlands where there has been extensive clearing for agriculture and related biodiversity losses. Many threatened ecological communities, particularly grasslands, woodlands, heath and dry forests, occur mainly on freehold land where implementing both reserves and appropriate management can be difficult.
- Both Australian Government and Tasmanian legislation require listing statements for each species listed. Listing statements provide a summary of the current knowledge and requirements for management and conservation of each threatened species. In 2001, of the 601 species (excluding extinct species) listed under the State legislation, 51 (8%) had listing statements; and of the 109 species listed under the Australian Government legislation 32 (28%) had listing statements.
- Critical habitat is the whole-or any part-of the habitat that is essential to the survival of a species of flora or fauna listed on the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995, which may require special management considerations or protection. No critical habitat has been declared for any threatened species in Tasmania, although it has been identified for the following species: Tetratheca gunnii, Epacris stuartii, Galaxias tanycephalus and Paragalaxias mesotes.
- There is uncertainty in many areas of the management of threatened species and ecological communities. Within the animal kingdom, far more is known about vertebrates than invertebrates, even though vertebrates represent only 5% of Tasmania's fauna while invertebrates comprise the remaining 95%. Invertebrates are the key to animal food webs and ecological health. Similarly, research within the plant kingdom has heavily favoured the flowering and other vascular plants, with a relative neglect of the more numerous non-vascular species such as algae, lichens and bryophytes (State Biodiversity Committee 2002). The bias in attention given to the more conspicuous groups of species is likely to mean that other species are lost without an understanding of their contribution to food webs, ecological health, and the other species (including some that may be formally listed as threatened species) that will be affected by their loss.
- Scientists have recognised that many species may be carrying an 'extinction debt' (Tilman et al. 1994). An extinction debt is incurred when actions that may result in local or total species extinctions may have already occurred, with the species still extant only due to the time lag in the extinction process. No data are available on the number of Tasmanian species that might be carrying an extinction debt, though it could be considerable.
- Scientists have also recognised that many species have an 'extinction threshold' for habitat loss which, once exceeded, will result in the species extinction (Fahrig 2001). However, the threshold varies considerably among species so detailed knowledge is required to be certain of the effects of habitat loss on a species survival. A research project on ten forest-dwelling species currently underway in north-east Tasmania may shed some light on extinction thresholds, and their relationship to other factors such as habitat fragmentation, in some of Tasmania's threatened species.
- The number of ecological communities that have become extinct in Tasmania since 1803 is unknown.
- Change in the health and extent of forest and non-forest ecological communities is uncertain, as there is presently no integrated system for monitoring vegetation clearance and condition across all tenures and administrative jurisdictions.