Australia is facing a brutal new wave of extinctions, but there is still time to limit the number of native species killed by foreign invaders, CSIRO warned.
The national science agency released a report detailing what the country has already lost – and stands to lose in the future – to an army of alien enemies.
The figures are sobering, both in terms of ecological and financial losses.
Invasive species have played a role in the disappearance of 79 native animals and plants since European colonization.
But since the 1960s, alien invaders have been the dominant driver of almost all extinctions, making them “worse than habitat destruction and climate change.”
Australia spends around $ 25 billion a year – in a prudent manner – to control alien species, from agricultural impacts to eradication and control efforts.
However, this is expected to increase up to six times each decade, meaning the annual bill could reach $ 150 billion per year by 2031.
CSIRO scientist and report co-author Andy Sheppard says Australia faces a “sliding door moment” on invasive species that will profoundly affect what happens to natives.
He says a real national plan is needed, one that combines world-class biosecurity controls to keep new pests from entering with cutting-edge technologies to detect, track, trace and suppress those already present.
It’s also possible to turn Australians into citizen scientists who can help hunt down invaders with their smartphones, while professionals work on gene-editing technologies that could one day ensure that feral cats can only have one offspring. male.
Australia loses an average of four threatened and endangered species every decade.
But Dr Sheppard says the number of species on this list is growing every year, “well beyond our national capacity to protect them all.”
“We argue that if you really tackle the main driver of these extinctions, which is the invasive alien species problem, then you are providing a more generic solution.”
The report details how climate change is already worsening the problem of invasive species in ecosystems across the country, including in northern Australia.
Rising sea levels and movements of exotic water buffaloes have combined to threaten freshwater wetlands and paperbark swamps that are home to native waterbirds.
Buffaloes have created swimming channels that allow seawater to enter wetlands, making them saline and allowing salt-tolerant weeds to settle there.
Another deadly combination involves bushfires and feral cats. Studies have shown that when feral cats hunt in open environments, like scorched fire fields, their death rates skyrocket and they can wipe out any native bushfire survivors.
But there are also opportunities, Dr Sheppard says, after events like bushfires, which are expected to become more frequent and severe as the climate changes.
“It is usually the alien species that are the first to return, so fires can be an ideal opportunity to manage them,” he said. “Because of the fire, whole seed banks are germinating and you can come in and control them.”
Dr Sheppard says a reasonable amount of bushfire recovery funding has been used for this purpose after the devastating 2019-2020 fire season.
“It’s happening, it’s just not happening in a coordinated way between states.”
The report says there is no time to waste in tackling what it has called “an unprecedented attack” on Australian wildlife.
“More than 1,250 (eight out of 10) of Australia’s terrestrial endangered species are threatened by invasive species,” he says.
“The financial cost is already enormous. Invasive species – mainly weeds, cats, rabbits and fire ants – are believed to have cost Australia $ 390 billion over the past 60 years in impacts and control measures.
“This cost will increase dramatically if new pests, weeds and diseases can invade Australia.”
Australian Associated Press