Australian species vulnerable to climate change

Climate change may happen too quickly for some species to adapt...

Climate change may happen too quickly for some species to adapt and may exacerbate existing threats such as land clearance, farming and pollution. Australian species with biological traits that make them susceptible to change, or with restricted habitats, are particularly vulnerable to extinction.

Some Australian species vulnerable to extinction through climate change:

Frogs

Thornton Peak Nursery Frog, Cophixalus concinnus

Current distribution: Wet Tropics of Queensland
Found only in the Wet Tropics region, it will be unable to colonise any other area if its habitat shrinks from global warming and reduced rainfall. Like other frogs, they are sensitive to climate change as their breeding cycle is linked to temperature and rainfall fluctuations. Warm temperatures also aid in spread of disease-causing organisms such as chytrid fungus.

Southern Corroboree Frog, Pseudophryne corroboree

Current distribution: restricted area of the Australian Alps
Hot dry weather, more common in the Alps since the 1980s, has already impacted on egg and tadpole survival and interfered with the breeding cycle, which is dependent on the extreme weather of the Alps. This species also faces probable loss of its alpine environment if future warming is too great.

Reptiles

Broad-headed Snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides

Current distribution: Sydney basin and surrounds
This species is at risk of extinction under worst-case climate change scenarios. It faces loss of habitat and interrupted breeding seasons that will reduce its already low population to critical levels.

Pink-tailed Legless Lizard, Aprasia parapulchella

Current distribution: southern New South Wales and northern Victoria
This species is already suffering from loss of its preferred open grassland habitat due to land-clearing and heavy grazing. Climate change could reduce its habitat due to increased fire and drought and the spread of invasive weeds.

Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata bissa

Current distribution: tropical areas of the Indo-Pacific
Like most other marine turtles species, the Hawksbill is highly vulnerable to climate change. More frequent storms will devastate nesting sites, high sea temperatures will reduce their main food sources of coral and sea grasses, and consistent high temperatures could lead to extreme infant mortality and a high ratio of female hatchlings over males. Population recovery will be difficult due to their slow reproduction rate.

Birds

Hooded Dotterel, Thinornis rubricollis rubricollis

Current distribution: coastal Jervis Bay, New South Wales to Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
Rising sea levels will have a devastating impact on this critically endangered species. The loss of the sandy beaches preferred for nesting and feeding, coupled with low breeding success, could lead to its extinction.

Golden-shouldered Parrot, Psephotus chrysopterygius

Current distribution: Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
This bird will be one of many species that could be affected by the increased temperatures, fires and droughts in the savanna areas of northern Australia. In addition, increased carbon dioxide levels will favour trees and shrubs over grasses, leading to massive habitat reduction.

Noisy Scrub-bird, Atrichornis clamosus

Current distribution: coastal south-west Western Australia
This semi-flightless species will be susceptible to fires that will be more common as droughts increase. Populations will find it hard to recover from these events as this species has a slow reproduction rate - only one egg is laid per season.

Helmeted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus melanops cassidix

Current distribution: areas near Melbourne, Victoria
Victoria's state bird emblem, it is particularly susceptible to the expected increase in droughts and fires that will affect its habitat. It is also likely that it will face increasing competition with the more aggressive Bell Miner.

Golden Bowerbird, Prionodura newtoniana

Current distribution: highlands of the Wet Tropics of Queensland
As with other highland species, the expected higher temperatures and lower rainfall will increasingly shift this bird's suitable habitat to higher altitudes, forcing it to move upwards. If total loss of habitat occurs, the bowerbird will be unable to colonise new areas.

Grey-headed Robin, Heteromyias cinereifrons

Current distribution: highlands of the Wet Tropics of Queensland
This species could suffer the same fate as many other highland bird species endemic to the Wet Tropics. This area may completely disappear if reduced rainfall and consistently high annual average temperatures occur - both conditions are forecast under climate change scenarios.

Mammals

Mountain Pygmy Possum, Burramys parvus

Current distribution: alpine and sub-alpine zones in Victoria and New South Wales
This tiny possum, one of only a few hibernating marsupials, needs a snow depth of at least one metre to provide adequate insulation during hibernation. Poor snow fall seasons, combined with shrinking habitat and increased predation from foxes and cats, could lead to its extinction.

Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby, Petrogale xanthopus

Current distribution: Flinders, Gawler Ranges South Australia; Gap, Cotarundee Ranges New South Wales; Gowan, Grey, Cheviot and Macedon Ranges Queensland
Higher temperatures and lower humidity could cause permanent changes to the natural habitat, along with increased numbers of introduced plant species and foxes. Severe droughts and bushfires could reduce the habitat range further, causing major population decline.

Lumholtzs Tree Kangaroo, Dendrolagus lumholtzi

Current distribution: Wet Tropics in Queensland
These kangaroos are rare and restricted in range. They rely on the cool, moist environment of high elevation rainforests and the expected higher temperatures and lower rainfall will increasingly reduce their suitable habitat. Populations may also be affected by increased carbon dioxide levels reducing the nitrogen content of leaves, making plants less nutritious.

Herbert River Ringtail Possum, Pseudochirulus herbertensis

Current distribution: Wet Tropics of Queensland
A 2-3°C temperature rise, a highly probable scenario, would devastate the Wet Tropics region and result in an almost total loss of its rainforest by 2050. It currently supports the highest possum diversity in Australia, with five possum species endemic to the region, including the Herbert River Ringtail.

Northern Bettong, Bettongia tropica

Current distribution: western edge of the Wet Tropics of Queensland
This bettong is another of the Wet Tropics animals that could suffer almost complete loss of habitat by 2050 due to rising temperatures and unsuitable fire regimes. Climate change could also lead to a decline in truffles, which are a major part of its diet.

Banded Hare Wallaby, Lagostrophus fasciatus

Current distribution: Bernier and Dorre Islands, Western Australia
Extinct on mainland Australia in the early 1900s due to human activity and drought, this wallaby now survives on only a few small islands. Increased aridity and temperatures, as well as rising sea levels, could cause a loss of habitat and directly impact on this species' breeding cycle.

Invertebrates

Giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis

Current distribution: Gippsland, Victoria
This earthworm is already in decline due to land clearing and the use of pesticides. It is particularly susceptible to drought as it requires a specific habitat in moist clay-rich soils, often under stream banks.

Small Alpine Xenica, Oreixenica latialis latialis

Current distribution: tablelands and mountains of Australian Alps
Although common now, populations of this butterfly could be severely affected if its alpine habitat disappears due to likely increased temperatures and reduced snow cover.

Others

Seaweed, Schmitzia japonica

Current distribution: intertidal zones of New South Wales coast, especially Batemans Bay. Seaweeds are often regarded as common and widespread. However, some of the more rare and endangered species are vulnerable to warming seas. In fact, the first recorded extinction of a seaweed anywhere in the world was in New South Wales, recorded at the end of the 20th century. Algal species are vulnerable under climate change as some of their life-history stages are intolerant to certain environmental conditions, particularly temperature changes.


Catherine Cooper and Fran Dorey
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