Platypus on brink of extinction

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Australia’s devastating drought is having a critical impact on the iconic platypus, a globally unique mammal, with increasing reports of rivers drying up and platypuses becoming stranded.

Platypuses were once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland and Tasmania, although not a lot is known about their distribution or abundance because of the species’ secretive and nocturnal nature.

A new study led by UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, funded through a UNSW-led Australian Research Council project and supported by the Taronga Conservation Society, has for the first time examined the risks of extinction for this intriguing animal.

Published in the international scientific journal Biological Conservation this month, the study examined the potentially devastating combination of threats to platypus populations, including water resource development, land clearing, climate change and increasingly severe periods of drought.

Lead author Dr Gilad Bino, a researcher at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, said action must be taken now to prevent the platypus from disappearing from our waterways.

“There is an urgent need for a national risk assessment for the platypus to assess its conservation status, evaluate risks and impacts, and prioritise management in order to minimise any risk of extinction,” Dr Bino said.

Alarmingly, the study estimated that under current climate conditions and due to land clearing and fragmentation by dams, platypus numbers almost halved, leading to the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species’ range, reflecting ongoing declines since European colonisation.

Under predicted climate change, the losses forecast were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell.

Dr Bino added: “These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas.”

Documented declines and local extinctions of the platypus show a species facing considerable risks, while the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently downgraded the platypus’ conservation status to “Near Threatened.”

But the platypus remains unlisted in most jurisdictions in Australia — except South Australia, where it is endangered.

Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science and study co-author Professor Richard Kingsford said it was unfortunate that platypuses lived in areas undergoing extensive human development that threatened their lives and long-term viability.

“These include dams that stop their movements, agriculture which can destroy their burrows, fishing gear and yabby traps which can drown them and invasive foxes which can kill them,” Prof Kingsford said.

Study co-author Professor Brendan Wintle at The University of Melbourne said it was important that preventative measures were taken now.

“Even for a presumed ‘safe’ species such as the platypus, mitigating or even stopping threats, such as new dams, is likely to be more effective than waiting for the risk of extinction to increase and possible failure,” Prof Wintle said.

“We should learn from the peril facing the koala to understand what happens when we ignore the warning signs.”

Dr Bino said the researchers’ paper added to the increasing body of evidence which showed that the platypus, like many other native Australian species, was on the path to extinction.

“There is an urgent need to implement national conservation efforts for this unique mammal and other species by increasing monitoring, tracking trends, mitigating threats, and protecting and improving management of freshwater habitats,” Dr Bino said.

The platypus research team is continuing to research the ecology and conservation of this enigmatic animal, collaborating with the Taronga Conservation Society, to ensure its future by providing information for effective policy and management.

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Hedgehogs now found in just one fifth of rural areas as numbers plummet, study reveals

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Hedgehog numbers have plummeted across rural areas, and they face potentially “catastrophic” future conditions, a new study reveals. Following estimates earlier this year that numbers had collapsed by as much as 97 per cent since the 1950s, the latest data indicates hedgehogs are suffering more in the countryside than in urban areas. The research, led by a team at Reading University, and published in the journal Nature, reveals between 2014 and 2015 hedgehogs were only present at 55 of 261 sites across England and Wales.

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Mankind has eaten into its year’s supply of natural resources – in just seven months

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Humans have used up a full year’s worth of Earth’s ecological resources in just over seven months, its fastest rate ever, according to an annual environmental report.

“Earth overshoot day”, marks the date at which humanity’s demand on the planet exceeds that which it can regenerate in a year. This year it will fall on Monday 8 August, its earliest date yet.

Earth overshoot day is calculated by the international think tank Global Footprint Network, which measures the world’s demand for resources against ecosystems’ ability to supply them.

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Treat global nature declines as an emergency, scientists tell world leaders

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Scientists and environmental lobbyists alike are calling on world leaders to treat the annihilation of wildlife and plants as a global emergency as UN experts sound the alarm in a landmark new report.The document, published on Monday, paints a devastating picture of biodiversity loss, with up to a million species facing extinction in the world’s sixth mass die-off.Planned as a wake-up call for policymakers, the UN’s global assessment on the state of nature will warn that without urgent action, future generations of people are at risk from the collapse of life-support systems providing food, pollination and clean water.

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