Today is the United Nation’s International Day for Biological Diversity, focusing on ‘building a shared future for all life.’ Biological diversity or biodiversity refers to the variety of all living things, made up of populations, species and ecosystems. The late Professor Thomas Lovejoy popularised the term and was often referred to as the ‘godfather of biodiversity’. Professor Lovejoy (1941–2021) was a legend in conservation biology, a friend and supporter of Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and a founding member of AWC’s Science Advisory Network.
“We are all related, and each the product of four billion years of evolution. Together we constitute the living part of the planet — what science calls the biosphere.
Collectively, we are why the Earth functions as a living planet — the one we call our home.”
– Professor Thomas Lovejoy (1941-2021)
Many experts now contend that the earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction event. But this time it’s different. The previous five mass extinctions have been driven by environmental catastrophes, but the sixth is being caused by human activity. The current rate of extinctions is hundreds or thousands of times faster than rates in the last tens of millions of years, with the extinction of almost 200 vertebrate species occurring within the past century. To put this into context, historically it would have taken up to 10,000 years for 200 extinctions to occur. This disruption to the integrity of the biosphere has been identified as a ‘planetary boundary’ – one of the factors which define the ongoing habitability of planet Earth.
Australia is, biologically speaking, megadiverse and home to some of the most unique fauna and flora in the world. At the same time, Australia is one of the lowest ranking developed nations when it comes to protecting diversity. Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world – one to two per decade – and one in three native mammals is either extinct or currently threatened with extinction. Predation by feral cats and foxes presents the biggest threat facing Australia’s mammals, followed by the impact of feral herbivores, inappropriate fire regimes, and land modification. Climate change will exacerbate these threats and increase the frequency of extreme climatic events. For example, it is estimated that the 2019–2020 megafires burnt 9.7 million hectares of vegetation that provided habitat for 832 species. Due to population declines following the fires, it was recommended that 91 species be listed or uplisted in their threatened status.
Action is needed urgently to restore and conserve Australia’s unique wildlife. But there is hope. We owe it to future generations, to other species and to ourselves to conserve and restore wildlife and habitats.
AWC’s mission is a commitment to protect biodiversity – to conserve all Australian animal species and the habitats in which they live. Our science program includes comprehensive audits of biodiversity through Ecohealth monitoring at each of our sanctuaries and partnership projects. Across this network, AWC protects at least 215 mammal, 546 bird, 555 reptile and 188 amphibian species – including animals as diverse as the Thorny Devil, Palm Cockatoo, Banded Hare-wallaby, Echidna, and Magnificent Tree Frog and ecosystems from desert to rainforest and tropical savanna. AWC’s Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary in North Queensland has possibly the highest level of biodiversity of any privately-owned parcel of land in Australia. At the core of AWC’s work – preventing extinctions and restoring healthy, diverse ecosystems – is looking after biodiversity.