The United Nations report released on 7 May 2019 estimates that a mind-boggling one million species of animals worldwide face immediate risk of extinction due to human actions. This is approximately 12% of all known species. How does this actually look at a regional level in South Australia and for a relatively small proportion of all animals?
The native vertebrate animals (270 +/- 10 species), native plants (~1000 species) and several thousand invertebrates of the mid and northern Flinders Ranges have now been in severe climate stress for almost ten years, which is ongoing. Only a few that are strongly adapted to arid conditions are less stressed. Eighteen (18) species of these native vertebrates could go regionally extinct in 10-20 years if the overall trend in decreasing rainfall, mist, dew, frost and humidity continues. There is also an associated increase in evaporation. This means significant losses of soil and sub-surface moisture, as well as natural surface waters at springs and waterholes. Regional extinction means the 18 species are likely to persist further south in suitable areas, but not in the mid and northern Flinders.
Three species of native vertebrates which occur only in the mid and northern Flinders could go completely extinct.
Research shows that some species of animals and plants can adapt and evolve quickly in rapidly changing conditions including climate. Some can move. But these are few. The diversity voids that were left by the last major climate change extinction are taking millions of years to be re-filled by other adapting and evolving species.
Here are the faces of just three of possibly 5,000 species of animals facing imminent extinction in Australia:
The Flinders Ranges Purple-spotted Gudgeon Mogurnda clivicola occurs only in the northern Flinders Ranges.
This young adult has been excluded from nearby shelter by other dominant adults. It is trying to be inconspicuous by remaining still alongside in-water plant debris resting on the loose sediment that is itself encrusted with fine algae.
(70mm long. Image: Harald Ehmann)
The Flinders Springs Froglet Crinia flindersensis occurs only in the northern Flinders Ranges. The species breeds in temporary pools in gorges and rocky creeks in ranges. It shelters under larger shaded rocks and in deep moist rocky recesses and fractures associated with springs. The species has wide variations in back colours and patterns. These two adult individuals were exposed by lifting the fist-sized rock they were sheltering under.
(25 mm long. Image Harald Ehmann)
The Flinders Ranges Toadlet Pseudophryne sp. nov. occurs only in the northern Flinders Ranges. One adult female (left) and one adult male (right) 28 and 24 mm long respectively. During thorough searches over 18 years this species was found only three times, the last was 8 years ago at a single location. Forty years ago it occurred at many springs and even on high ranges. Its breeding biology has not yet been determined. The Flinders Ranges Toadlet is being formally described as a new species. It evolved by divergence in isolation from its more widespread southern relative – the Brown Toadlet Pseudophryne bibroni. In the last 25 years many of Australia’s fifteen species of Toadlet have declined, some to alarmingly low numbers, including the iconic Corroboree Frog.
(Image: Peter Canty)
These three species are real-life examples and they are the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of these invertebrates have not been assessed for extinction potential. The total likely extinction potential for all animals could be 500 species in this small part of Australia, with about 10,000 species on the potential extinction list for Australia.
One million animal species worldwide. Ten thousand in Australia. Five hundred in this small region. These are serious numbers at risk of extinction. Surely all of humanity needs to do serious re-evaluations of what we are doing to the only Earth we have.
If you are concerned about these potential losses take heart, where there is hope there can be meaningful action. Please support Extinction Rebellion. Do what you can for the only planetary home we have.
Harald Ehmann, XRSA Community and Outreach, Ecologist