Title

Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Woinarski, JCZ, Burbidge, AA & Harrison, PL 2015, 'Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 112, no. 5, pp. 4531-4540.

Published version available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1417301112

Peer Reviewed

Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

The highly distinctive and mostly endemic Australian land mammal fauna has suffered an extraordinary rate of extinction (>10% of the 273 endemic terrestrial species) over the last ∼200 y: in comparison, only one native land mammal from continental North America became extinct since European settlement. A further 21% of Australian endemic land mammal species are now assessed to be threatened, indicating that the rate of loss (of one to two extinctions per decade) is likely to continue. Australia’s marine mammals have fared better overall, but status assessment for them is seriously impeded by lack of information. Much of the loss of Australian land mammal fauna (particularly in the vast deserts and tropical savannas) has been in areas that are remote from human population centers and recognized as relatively unmodified at global scale. In contrast to general patterns of extinction on other continents where the main cause is habitat loss, hunting, and impacts of human development, particularly in areas of high and increasing human population pressures, the loss of Australian land mammals is most likely due primarily to predation by introduced species, particularly the feral cat, Felis catus, and European red fox, Vulpes vulpes, and changed fire regimes.