Escalation of existing pressures


It is inevitable that the impact of climate change will continue to increase, given current trajectories (see the Drivers and Atmosphere reports). The interaction of climate change with other pressures, such as invasive species and changing fire regimes, will also continue to cause significant and widespread changes in biodiversity.

Along with clearing and fragmentation, the impact of invasive species is already highlighted throughout this report as the most significant pressure faced by biodiversity in Australia. Given the overall trajectory of increasing impact, it is likely that this issue will increase in the future. CSIRO’s report Australia’s biosecurity future (Simpson & Srinivasan 2014) highlighted a number of global megatrends that are likely to escalate this existing pressure, with the potential to bring about significant change and complexity (Table BIO9).

Table BIO9 Summary of biosecurity megatrends and their key implications



Biosecurity implications

An appetite for change

  • Agriculture is intensifying to meet growing global food demands
  • Niche markets are growing (e.g. organics and bioproducts)
  • Future focus will be on productivity improvements that could increase or decrease the strength of the biosecurity system
  • Land-use change associated with agricultural expansion can affect the resilience of our ecosystems
  • As niche markets grow, we may need to consider entirely new approaches to managing pests and diseases

The urban mindset

  • Urban populations continue to grow, with increasing disconnectedness from primary industries
  • Consumer expectations relating to food production are growing
  • Urban development continues to encroach on land
  • Peri-urban producers are disconnected from traditional agricultural networks
  • A general disconnection from primary production in Australia is leading to a lack of understanding of biosecurity issues and their impacts
  • The ongoing expansion of our cities is changing interactions between people, wildlife, agriculture and disease vectors, increasing risks such as zoonotic disease
  • It is important to engage with peri-urban and amateur producers as part of the biosecurity community to improve their understanding of biosecurity risks and their adoption of biosecurity practices

On the move

  • The number of international tourist arrivals in Australia continues to increase
  • The movement of goods and vessels around the world and across interstate borders is increasing, in line with growing global trade
  • Increased movement of people and goods can help to bring pests or diseases into the country that could affect our environment or primary industries
  • Greater domestic freight movements can also help pests and diseases to spread across the country
  • In a globalised world, bioterrorism (including agroterrorism) is a potential threat

A diversity dilemma

  • There is increased biodiversity loss, with many species on the brink of extinction, much of which is linked to human activity
  • A changing climate is causing shifts in ecosystem diversity
  • We are continuing to see a loss of species and genetic diversity within agriculture
  • Significant biodiversity loss can decrease the resilience of our natural environment to pests and diseases
  • Biodiversity can provide a number of benefits, such as ecosystem services (e.g. pollination). Understanding the interconnections between biodiversity and biosecurity may therefore prove to be a vital component of biosecurity management
  • Climate change can facilitate the movement of pests and disease vectors into new areas
  • The loss of agricultural diversity can create food security risks in the case of a pest or disease outbreak
  • Preserving genetic diversity can help in the development of pest-resistant and disease-resistant crops and animals

The efficiency era

  • An ageing population is leading to a decline in biosecurity specialists and experienced farmers, with a lack of younger talent to fill the gaps created
  • Biosecurity investment does not appear to be keeping pace with the growing challenges we face
  • Technology and innovation across surveillance and monitoring; data and analytics; communication and engagement; genetics; and smaller, smarter devices will play an important role in addressing future biosecurity challenges
  • A lack of biosecurity specialists and investment could limit our ability to prevent and respond to shocks
  • Improvements in data modelling and visualisation, combined with increased data availability, can improve long-term decision-making
  • Progress in surveillance and diagnostics in genetics allows for better detection and understanding of pests and diseases, as well as opportunities to breed resistant species

Australia’s biosecurity future (Simpson & Srinivasan 2014) also outlined several megashocks (based on what the biosecurity community identified as some of the most important threats we might face in the next 2–3 decades) that could result if we remain complacent about our future biosecurity risks. Megashocks involve significant, relatively sudden and potentially high-impact events, the timing of which is very hard to predict. Megashocks can have significant impacts across economic, environmental and/or social dimensions. They can also vary in scale, from more localised or industry-specific megashocks, through to those with impacts of national or even global significance.

The 12 megashocks presented in the report are:

  • nationwide incursion of a new race of an exotic wheat stem rust (more virulent than existing races of UG99)
  • nationwide loss of pollination services from feral European honeybees as a result of a multistate varroa mite incursion
  • nationwide incursion of a new exotic fruit fly
  • nationwide outbreak of a variant strain of foot-and-mouth disease
  • bluetongue outbreak across Australia’s major sheep-producing regions
  • spread of highly virulent rust across multiple ecosystems
  • government ‘walking away’ from environmental biosecurity
  • successful establishment of black-striped mussel
  • outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia
  • nationwide zoonotic disease epidemic
  • bioterrorist attack
  • rapid spike in antimicrobial resistance.

The report also identifies a series of activities, across policy, science and technology, and communication and engagement, that provide a starting point for the process of strengthening our biosecurity regimes to address global challenges.

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