Availability of information

2016

No consistent national-level data are available on the impact of pressures on all aspects of biodiversity in the past 5 years. The Australian Government released a Threatened Species Strategy in 2015, (DoE 2015a) which provides insight into threats to a limited number of high-priority taxa or species. For example, the impact of feral cats on small mammals has been well documented. However, information on which to base a comprehensive assessment of trends in pressures and the relative impact of different pressures broadly across ecosystems is very limited (see Box BIO1). Information about the entire range of species that make up the bulk of our biodiversity or on ecological processes that maintain biodiversity is also very limited.

Box BIO1 Current and future pressures on biodiversity—a survey of the ecological community

In December 2015, Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) members were surveyed to solicit opinions on the current and emerging pressures on biodiversity, and impediments to effective management (hereafter referred to as the 2015 ESA survey); 155 members responded. A summary of the responses to these questions is given below.

What are the 5 most significant threats facing biodiversity in 2015 ?

Clearing and land-use change was the most common response, and rated as the most important significant threat (i.e. ranked first in 56 per cent of responses). Furthermore, clearing and land-use change was given as one of the top 5 significant threats by 94 per cent of respondents. Climate change was most commonly given as the next most important threat, with 76 per cent of respondents rating climate change as one of the top 5 significant threats. Invasive species and pathogens were next; 69 per cent of respondents rated invasive species and pathogens as one of the top 5 significant threats. Respondents also identified a range of governance and social issues as a threat to biodiversity, including issues relating to low resourcing of land management actions, agencies and research; poor public education; and lack of empathy for biodiversity (Table BIO1).

Table BIO1 The 5 most significant threats facing biodiversity

Threat

Rank 1 (%)

Rank 2 (%)

Rank 3 (%)

Rank 4 (%)

Rank 5 (%)

Total (%)

Clearing and land-use change

56

43

32

27

21

94

Climate change

20

15

16

16

17

76

Invasive species and pathogens

14

21

25

22

14

69

Governance issues

7

9

9

16

18

38

Changed fire regimes

1

10

8

6

12

35

Pollution

1

1

4

8

9

18

Social issues

1

1

4

4

6

13

Species-level changes

1

1

2

1

3

6

Note: Rank is the order in which respondents ranked the threat (Rank 1 = most significant threat). Total (%) is the proportion of respondents who listed the threat as one of the top 5 most significant.

Source: Survey of Ecological Society of Australia members, 2015

What are the top 5 emerging issues with the potential to have serious outcomes for biodiversity in the next 10 years ?

Climate change was ranked as the most important emerging threat in 44 per cent of responses, and 73 per cent of respondents noted climate change as one of the top 5 emerging issues. Clearing and habitat modification, and governance issues were the next 2 most important emerging issues; 53 per cent noted clearing and habitat modification, and 49 per cent noted biosecurity in the top 5 emerging issues. Most of the responses in the governance issues category referred to a range of poor or inadequate government policy and effective legislation, and a lack of adequate protection and management in reserves—this was often related to a lack of resourcing for areas in the conservation estate and for natural resource management managers.

Mining and development as an emerging risk was noted by 34 per cent of respondents. Many referred to the expansion of mining and development generally; some specifically referred to development in northern Australia or to coal-seam gas. Overall, most of the responses related to escalation of existing pressures, rather than emerging pressures (Table BIO2).

Table BIO2 Top 5 emerging issues for biodiversity

Emerging issue

Rank 1 (%)

Rank 2 (%)

Rank 3 (%)

Rank 4 (%)

Rank 5 (%)

Total (%)

Climate change

44

12

11

9

5

73

Clearing and habitat modification

11

16

23

14

18

53

Biosecurity

9

12

20

18

16

49

Governance issues

10

10

4

12

15

38

Mining and development

9

13

10

8

12

34

Population growth and urbanisation

8

14

7

7

4

26

Fire regime change

2

7

2

7

6

22

Species-level changes

3

4

7

5

8

19

Social issues

1

6

4

7

7

18

Pollution

1

5

3

4

5

13

Knowledge, evidence, research

2

2

7

6

3

12

Other

0

0

2

3

1

4

Note: Rank is the order in which respondents ranked the threat (Rank 1 = most important emerging issue). Total (%) is the proportion of people who included the response in one of the 5 ranks.

Source: Survey of Ecological Society of Australia members, 2015

What are the 5 most important knowledge gaps hindering effective management of biodiversity ?

The highest-ranked response (18 per cent) was a lack of basic knowledge about species distributions and abundances, and particularly of threatened species (46 per cent of respondents included this category in the top 5). Other responses identified a lack of understanding of ecological processes, threatening processes and potential ecological thresholds or tipping points. The survey identified a lack of effective control of invasive species and a lack of knowledge about the impacts of climate change as the most important targets that need to be addressed to manage biodiversity cost-effectively. The survey further identified that management was hampered by a lack of understanding about the effectiveness of management and about best-practice management (Figure BIO3).

Longhorn beetle (Batocera boisduvali). Photo by Eric Vanderduys

Longhorn beetle (Batocera boisduvali)

Photo by Eric Vanderduys

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Availability of information. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/biodiversity/topic/2016/availability-information, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812