Oceania Bearing the Brunt of the Planet's Sixth Great Extinction


Tasmanian Devil photo: Chen Wu via flickr.

We're in the midst of the sixth great wave of extinction on this planet, with extinction rates up to 10,000 times those which prevailed over the past 60 million years. A new article in the journal Conservation Biology did an extensive survey of the literature and found that Oceania (that's Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands) has been and continues to be hit particularly hard by extinction. The report's lead author, Prof. Richard Kingsford of the University of New South Wales was quoted in Science Daily as saying:Extinctions Only to Continue Without Changes in Human Activity

Our region has the notorious distinction of having possible the worst extinction record on Earth. This is predicted to continue without serious changes to the way we conserve our environments and dependent organisms. [...]

Many people are just beginning to understand the full extent of these problems in terms of land-clearing, degradation of rivers, pest species and overfishing.

Climate change is a very important issue, but by no means the only threat to biodiversity. The biggest problem seems to be the policy challenges are just not being taken up by governments. Conservation policies are just seen as a problem for the economy.


Habitat Loss and Degradation the Greatest Threat
Specifically, Oceania is witnessing the following threats:
  • Habitat loss and degradation is the single largest threat to land species, affecting 80% of threatened species.
  • More than 1,200 bird species have gone extinct in the Pacific islands and archipelagos.
  • Australia agriculture has modified or destroyed about 50% of woodlands; 70% of remaining forests are ecologically degraded due to logging.
  • Invasive species are responsible for 75% of all terrestrial vertebrate extinctions on oceanic islands.
  • Some 2,500 invasive plants have colonized Australia and New Zealand -- that's about 11% of native plant species. Many invasive species (both plant and animal) were introduced by government, agriculture, horticulture, or hunters.

Population Growth a Major Problem
The report's authors highlighted the role of population growth putting ever-increasing pressure on the environment, giving the examples that by 2050 in Australia human population is set to grow 35%, in New Zealand 25% and in Papua New Guinea 76%.

Prof. Kingsford again:

The burden on the environment is going to get worse unless we are a lot smarter about reducing our footprint on the planet, or the human population.

More: Science Daily
Endangered Species
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25 Most Endangered Primate Species Could "Fit Into Single Football Stadium"
10 Endangered Animals Which Aren't in the Spotlight, But Should Be (Slideshow)
Population Growth
When Population Growth and Resource Availability Collide
Population Growth, Resource Over-Consumption at Center of 'Looming Catastrophe', Stanford Biologists Claim

Tags: Australia | Conservation | Endangered Species | New Zealand

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