The term biological diversity or biodiversity refers to the variety of life of earth - plants, animals, micro-organisms - as well as the variety of genetic material they contain and of the ecological systems in which they occur. The Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 defines biodiversity as:
... the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
Assessing Australia's Biodiversity
Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002 is Australia's first comprehensive assessment of terrestrial biodiversity. It provides the basis for an improved understanding of biodiversity values, biodiversity management requirements and investment opportunities.
The objectives of the terrestrial biodiversity assessment were to:
- identify regional priorities and landscape/ecosystem priorities across Australia for biodiversity conservation;
- identify management priorities to conserve biodiversity at both national and regional scales and access the associated resource implications; and
- build nationwide consensus on biodiversity management priorities.
A range of conservation measures - both on and off reserves - are needed to conserve and manage biodiversity in Australia. This assessment examined biodiversity conservation in terms of three complementary strategies:
- reserve consolidation;
- threatened species and ecosystem management; and
- integrated natural resource management.
The assessment used a mix of quantitative analysis and expert opinion. A standard template was used by nature conservation agencies in each State and Territory and then combined to derive the summary statistics reported here. Where a subregion or ecosystem crossed a jurisdictional boundary, it was the responsibility of the State or Territory with the largest proportion of the subregion to consult with their cross-border colleagues.
The 85 bioregions of Australia and their 384 component subregions are used to report the findings. Bioregions represent broad landscape patterns that are the result of the interplay between a range of factors including geology, climate and biota. Subregions represent more homogenous geomorphic units at a finer scale that often closely relate to historical and current land-use and therefore, reflect differing pressures on the landscape. Information collated using subregions and bioregions can readily be used in other catchment or administrative planning frameworks to consider biodiversity conservation needs.
This assessment would not have been possible without the strong support from all of the following agencies.
- Australian Capital Territory: Environment ACT
- New South Wales: National Parks and Wildlife Service
- Northern Territory: Parks and Wildlife Commission
- Queensland: Environment Protection Agency
- South Australia: Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity and the Department for Environment and Heritage
- Tasmania: Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment
- Victoria: Department of Natural Resources and Environment
- Western Australia: Department of Conservation and Land Management
- Commonwealth: Department of the Environment and Heritage, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
- In northern Australia, the condition of nationally important wetlands is generally good (58% of subregions assessed). In southern Australia, many wetlands (28% of subregions assessed) require significant intervention to bring about their recovery. Map 1: Condition of nationally important wetlands (median). Where subregions cross State/Territory borders, condition may not apply equally within each jurisdiction.
- The trend of wetlands in 38% of subregions is declining. Map 2: Trend in the condition of nationally important wetlands (median). Where subregions cross State/Territory borders, condition may not apply equally within each jurisdiction. Where trend information was available less than 50% of wetlands, trend is classified as unknown.
- Grazing pressure, exotic weeds and feral animals are the most common threatening processes affecting wetlands. Map 3: Distribution of major threatening processes for nationally important wetlands. Where subregions cross State and Territory borders, threatening processes may not apply equally within each jurisdiction. In some subregions, threatening processes were not recorded for all wetlands.
- The condition of riparian zones is degraded for 31% of subregions assessed and 38% of subregions require significant management intervention to achieve recovery. Map 4: Average condition of riparian zones (all watercourses within subregion). Where subregions cross State or Territory borders, average condition may not apply equally within each jurisdiction.
- The trend of riparian zones is declining in 73% of subregions. Map 5: Average trend in the condition of riparian zones (all watercourses with subregion). Where subregions cross State or Territory borders, trend may not apply equally within each jurisdiction.
- Increased fragmentation is a particularly common threatening process to riparian zones in highly cleared regions of southern and eastern Australia. Feral animals, grazing, exotic weeds and changed fire regimes are key threats in pastoral regions and the more intensively used areas of Victoria and Tasmania. Map 6: Distribution of major threatening processes for riparian zones. Where subregions cross State or Territory borders, threatening processes may not apply equally within each jurisdiction.
- Australia has 2836 threatened ecosystems (at bioregion scale). 94% of bioregions have one or more threatened ecosystem. The highest number of threatened ecosystems occur in southern and eastern Australia. Map 7: The number and percentage of threatened ecosystems identified across bioregions. Threatened ecosystems include regional ecosystems and other ecological assemblages. In some bioregions, the total number of ecosystems has not yet been determined to enable a percentage to be derived.
- Nearly half of the threatened ecosystems are forest and woodland with shrubby or grassy understorey.
- Exotic weeds and feral animals have an impact on threatened ecosystems in many bioregions. Map 8: Distribution of the nine threatening processes for threatened ecosystems. Where subregions cross State and Territory borders, threatening processes may not apply equally within each jurisdiction.
- The number of threatened species at the subregion scale varied from 0 to 236 (highest in north-eastern Victoria). Map 9: Total number of threatened species by subregion.
- Threatening processes for threatened species are: changed fire regimes in northern Australia, extensive vegetation clearing in Queensland, NSW and Tasmania, increased fragmentation of remnants in NSW and WA, widespread overgrazing, feral animals in arid areas, changed hydrology in many parts, and salinity in South Australia. Map 10: Distribution of ten most common threatening processes for threatened species by bioregion.
- Birds are more mobile and extinctions are not yet apparent, although 29 species show a significant decrease in agricultural areas.
- The greatest decline in reporting rate was in grassland and woodland groups.
- Reporting rate of ground-nesting species decreased in south-eastern Australia and the Top End.
- Obligate granivores were recorded at a higher rate in the second atlas, however, ground-feeding insectivores decreased, particularly in the south-east.
- 22 Australian mammals are extinct - which is one third of the world's recent extinctions.
- There has been a massive contraction in the distribution of mammals in arid and semi-arid parts of Australia, particularly the small to medium critical weight range species.
- Patterns of attrition for six different mammal taxa show similarities, although the worst affected are the bandicoots.
- Locations of endemic acacias and eucalypts were identified. Map 17: Numbers of endemic species of acacia and eucalypt occurring in each subregion, and combined richness of endemic acacias and eucalypts in bioregions and subregions.
- Irreplaceability incorporates the significance of subregions in terms of both the number of species present and the proportion of those species that have restricted distributions. Subregions with high irreplaceability have low landscape stress. Map 18: Irreplaceability indices of acacias and eucalypts in each subregion, and combined data of acacias and eucalypts in bioregions and subregions.
- Endemism and irreplaceability are important values that need to be taken into account in regional planning for other species groups.
- 9.2% of Australia was protected as of June 2001. Map 19: Protected areas that have been formally gazetted and allocated to an IUCN category.
- 67% of the diversity in regional ecosystems is captured by national parks and formal reserves, with a further 5% captured by other protected areas and covenants on private land. Click to here to view the Comprehensiveness, Adequacy and Representativeness scores for all 85 bioregions.
- 42 bioregions are a high priority for further reservation to ensure Australia has a comprehensive and representative system of protected areas. 1500 regional ecosystems that are poorly conserved, and in many cases threatened, would be the focus of further reservation. Map 20: Bioregional priorities for consolidating Australia's protected area system.
- With 57 subregions in the intensive landuse zone having less than 30% vegetation remaining and 88 subregions showing little connectivity between remnants, the opportunity for developing a comprehensive and representative protected area system is rapidly diminishing. Map 21: Subregional priorities for consolidating Australia's protected area system.
- There is a capacity for integrating biodiversity conservation into natural resource management in 29% of subregions. Capacity is severely constrained in 14% of subregions. Map 22: Integrated natural resource management opportunities for biodiversity conservation.
- Major constraints on achieving recovery of threatened ecosystems due to the high level of habitat loss and poor landscape condition are identified for 11% of subregions. In 29% of subregions, relatively minor conservation effort would result in significant biodiversity gains. Map 23: Threatened species and ecosystems recovery opportunities.
- Based on 14 case studies across Australia, investment in biodiversity management needs to be significantly increased in most regions across Australia. Map 24: The differences in resources required and resources currently available to ensure adequate biodiversity conservation for all 14 case study regions.
One of the key components of the Australian biodiversity assessment is a synopsis report for each bioregion. View these by choosing a bioregion from the navigation menus above.
Link to summaries of the fourteen case study reports:
- Mitchell (Northern Kimberley 1)
- Dieri (Simpson Strezelecki Dunefields 3)
- Desert Uplands
- Murrumbidgee (Riverina 2)
- Kangaroo Island (Kanmantoo 1)
- Mitchell Grass Downs (partial)
- Isaac-Comet Downs (Brigalow Belt North 11)
- Avon Wheatbelt 2
- Cumberland Plain (Sydney Basin 8)
- Victorian Volcanic Plain 1
- Murrumbateman (South East Highlands 6)
- Tasmanian Northern Midlands
- Goldfields (Victorian Midlands 1)
- Bird analysis methods paper(Garnett S.T., Crowley, G.M., and Barrett, G. 2002. "Analysis of Birds for the Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002")
- Final mammal report (McKenzie, N.L. and Burbidge, A.A. 2002. "Australian Mammal Audit")
- An explanation of the Acacia and Eucalypt analysis methods (West J., Kinloch, J., James C., and Nicholls, A. 2002)
- Landscape Health in Australiaproject report
- Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002 report
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