This report identifies the key pressures affecting biodiversity, using a similar approach to the 'Biodiversity' chapter in the 2011 state of the environment (SoE 2011) report. Components of biodiversity identified for assessment were set in SoE 2011, and SoE 2016 was required to provide updates on these assessments. Current understanding of the state and recent trends of key components of biodiversity are presented, as well as discussions on biodiversity management effectiveness, resilience and risks to biodiversity.

The Biodiversity report now includes consideration of pressures on, and state and trends of, aquatic biodiversity in addition to the previous focus on terrestrial biodiversity. Aquatic biodiversity is also partly addressed in the Inland water and Coasts reports.

The Biodiversity report draws on many of the other reports in SoE 2016, particularly Coasts, Inland water, Marine environment and Land. Where relevant, we provide a short synthesis and note that particular sections are covered in detail in other reports.

The Effectiveness of biodiversity management section is structured slightly differently from that in SoE 2011. We have focused on management context, capacity and status. Assessment summaries are not based solely on the effectiveness of the management of pressures, but also on the effectiveness of the management of Australia's National Reserve System, and threatened species and communities.

This report is primarily concerned with known changes in biodiversity since SoE 2011. Our assessment summaries use the 2011 report as a baseline, and we reflect on changes since 2011 that have led to an improvement or deterioration in grade and trends. As with SoE 2011, the reference point from which the assessment of grade and trends is measured in the long term is the biodiversity understood to exist before European settlement (approximately 1750). This reference point has been accepted as the basis for planning the National Reserve System, measuring trends in distribution and abundance of organisms and ecosystems, documenting extinctions, and developing biodiversity conservation strategies.

This report is designed as an overview of the state and trends of biodiversity based on the published literature, rather than a detailed scientific paper, and we have not referenced every statement. The authors have endeavoured to report only where there was some evidence base for claims of management achievement, or for claims of biodiversity decline or loss. However, given that no comprehensive information base was available on which to make informed quantitative analysis, we are aware that elements of this report are subjective opinions based on our best judgement of the available literature.

Assessing and interpreting changes in biodiversity

No simple set of measurements is taken nationally that allows a comprehensive assessment of change in biodiversity. This report draws on a variety of sources, including jurisdictional reports and updates - for informing trends in the nature and impacts of pressures (see Pressures affecting biodiversity), trends in vegetation conditions and extent (see Terrestrial ecosystems and communities), and trends in threatened species and ecological communities (see Terrestrial plant and animal species and Freshwater species and ecosystems). However, the jurisdictional reports differ greatly from each other in their coverage and presentation of these topics, the indicators used and reporting periods. Some jurisdictions do not produce an SoE report, and some have not produced a report since 2011 (Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia). These jurisdictions have provided a brief assessment against key pressures and key trends in vegetation, fauna, and threatened species and communities. For other jurisdictions, the latest SoE reports were used to provide broad assessments of change (Australian Capital Territory 2015, New South Wales 2015, South Australia 2013, Victoria 2013). For South Australia, the 2015 natural resource management report card was also used.

At the national level, it is only possible to provide a reasonable level of assessment detail for mammals and birds, because large amounts of data are available on their state and trends in The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 (Woinarski et al. 2014), the State of Australia’s birds 2015 (BirdLife Australia 2015) and The action plan for Australian birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011). The relevant sections describing the status and trends of these taxa draw heavily on these reports. For all other taxa, we rely on identifying changes through smaller-scale reports, scientific papers, case studies and expert opinion, or are unable to make any definitive comments.

Gecko (Nephrurus sp.) Photo by Eric Vanderduys

Gecko (Nephrurus sp.)
Photo by Eric Vanderduys

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Approach. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812