ARC CoE for Environmental Decisions (CEED)

Media Release

Australian cities critical for threatened wildlife

17 December, 2015 - for immediate release

Australian cities can help conserve the country’s endangered animals and plants, environmental scientists say.

New research by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) reveals that Australian cities still retain a remarkable number of threatened species. All Australian cities and towns contain species that are officially listed as threatened. Sydney has the most, at 126 species, Kalgoorlie-Boulder in Western Australia has the most distinct collection of animals found in an urban area, and Kempsey in NSW has the most unique plants.

“This is the first study worldwide that shows just how many of our threatened species are actually hanging on in our cities,” says Dr Pia Lentini of CEED and The University of Melbourne. “The finding was surprising because we generally write off cities as ‘lost causes’ when it comes to conservation. We tend to imagine that threatened species are only found in far away national parks or remote areas.

“This shows that cities aren’t just a threat to conservation. If we are plan our cities carefully, we can keep habitats that are important to Australia’s amazing animals and plants and help conserve them into the future.”

In the study, the team explored the locations of Australia’s 1,643 listed threatened species, and the extent to which they overlapped with 99 cities or towns. They found that 500 threatened and protected species are living within city areas. In fact, for 51 species more than 30 per cent of the area they occupy in Australia happens to be in cities or towns.

Examples of urban species at risk include the koala, as well as the Cooneana olive, found in Brisbane; the southern brown bandicoot, as well as the fragrant doubletail orchid in Melbourne; the green and golden bell frog in Sydney; the superb parrot and Canberra spider orchid in Canberra; the black-footed tree-rat in Darwin; the forty-spotted pardalote and Basalt guinea-flower in Hobart; and the plum leek-orchid in Adelaide.

Co-author Dr Christopher Ives of CEED and RMIT University explains that some of these animals live in urban areas because fresh water or food are no longer as available in their natural habitats. “For example, we are increasingly seeing grey-head flying foxes and swift parrots in our cities because the nectar, fruit or blossoms that they feed on are more often found in urban habitats.”

Another example is Carnaby’s black cockatoo, which relies on introduced pine plantations around the city of Perth.

“We also found that some threatened plants are only found in urban environments, which means they can be easily wiped out if we don’t plan carefully,” Dr Ives says.

“Examples include the fringed spider-orchid that lives on the edges of Melbourne – an area that is being developed rapidly, and the Nielsen Park she-oak that is found only within the metropolitan area of greater Sydney.

The findings highlight the importance of planning and managing our cities for conservation as well as human wellbeing. Apart from careful planning, small changes can help make the cities more friendly to native Australian animals and plants, Dr Lentini adds.

“For instance, protecting big old trees with hollows, planting more trees, or having green roofs covered with plants can keep our cities cooler for us – and at the same time preserve threatened plants or animals.

“We also need to help species move between larger parks as they travel to find food, which means having corridors of trees and plants between green areas, instead of the current approach where parks are isolated islands in a sea of buildings.

“As our cities expand into coastal areas, something as simple as restricting dogs from beaches will avoid disturbing migratory shorebirds when they stop to rest.

“Each Australian city is home to a different and unique set of native animals and plants, so it’s really important that we start to think of the role these places play in actually conserving threatened species, rather than ignoring them.”

The study “Cities are hotspots for threatened species” by Christopher D. Ives, Pia E. Lentini, Caragh G. Threlfall, Karen Ikin, Danielle F. Shanahan, Georgia E. Garrard, Sarah A. Bekessy, Richard A. Fuller, Laura Mumaw, Laura Rayner, Ross Rowe, Leonie E. Valentine and Dave Kendal is published in Global Ecology and Biography. See: http://bit.ly/1NrbPp6

Images: http://bit.ly/1NokhHR

CEED is the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions. CEED’s research tackles key gaps in environmental decision making, monitoring and adaptive management. Visit www.ceed.edu.au Follow: @ARC_CEED

More information:
Dr Pia Lentini, CEED & The University of Melbourne, +61 (0)402 288 673, pia.lentini@unimelb.edu.au
Dr Chris Ives, CEED & RMIT University, +49 (0)175 914 4485 (Germany timezone), ives@leuphana.de
Gabrielle Sheehan, CEED Communications , +61 (0)409 945 001 gabrielle@curriecom.com.au

Distributed by SciNews.com.au