Summary

Kangaroo infographic icon

Mammal range contractions

64%

of native mammals have experienced long term declines in range   

Platypus infographic icon

Survival of vertebrate species

64%

of terrestrial vertebrate species are not listed as being threatened

The overall diversity and richness of native species and communities in NSW remains under threat of further decline. The conservation status of 64% of land-based vertebrate species is currently not threatened.

A general pattern of long-term decline in biodiversity is evident in reductions to the range or abundance of many native vertebrate species. At the same time, many species less susceptible to current pressures have maintained their distributions, while a small number of adaptable species have flourished.

Over the past 200 years birds have been more resistant to declines in range than mammals, which have experienced substantial declines, especially small- to medium-sized ground-dwelling species. However, over recent decades there is evidence that populations of some bird groups are declining.

The decline in native species is due to the cumulative impact of many diverse pressures and threats. The main threats are vegetation clearing and habitat degradation and invasive species, with vertebrate fauna, in particular, being impacted by foxes and cats on the mainland and introduced rodents affecting species survival on islands. Climate change is likely to be a major threat to the future survival of many species.

The NSW Government has streamlined and integrated legislation for biodiversity conservation and protection.

The main measures to address the decline in biodiversity are conservation of native species in the public reserve system, the Biodiversity Conservation Trust which funds landowners to manage, protect and conserve biodiversity on private land and through biodiversity offsets, and the Saving our Species program which aims to secure as many threatened species in the wild as possible.

Related Topics: Threatened Species | Invasive Species | Native Vegetation | River Health  

NSW indicators

Indicator and status Environmental 
trend
Information 
reIiability
Terrestrial mammals: Loss of distribution - long term (~200 years)
Poor status meterstatusPOOR
Stable
Birds: Loss of distribution - long term (~200 years)
Moderate status meterstatusMODERATE
Stable
Proportion of vertebrate fauna species that is presently non-threatened
Moderate status meterstatusMODERATE
Getting worse ✔✔
Birds: Decline in populations - short term (decades)
Poor status meterstatusPOOR
Getting worse ✔✔
Large kangaroos: Populations
Good status meterstatusGOOD
Stable ✔✔✔
Native fish communities
Poor status meterstatusPOOR
Getting better ✔✔✔

Notes:

Terms and symbols used above are defined in How to use this report.

Context

Biodiversity refers to the full range of ecosystems, the species and populations they support and the genes they contain. It also encompasses the complex interactions between living organisms and the environment which provide the basis for a range of ecosystem services and maintain the health and productivity of the land.

NSW has a rich biodiversity, much of which is recognised as being internationally significant.

It is not possible to monitor or report on biodiversity across its breadth (Saunders et al. 1998) because of the limited data available and the sheer amount of biodiversity to be monitored. The vast majority of all species are invertebrates or microorganisms, especially bacteria (Larsen et al. 2017). The focus of this topic is limited to describing the status of native fauna, in particular land-based vertebrate species (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians). See the Threatened Species topic for a description of the status and prospects of native plants and animals listed as threatened in NSW.

A shrinking distribution is often the first indication that a species is declining in numbers. Declines in many species have been underway for decades or longer but have largely gone unrecorded. Over the past three decades, heightened awareness of the plight of native flora and fauna has revealed the extent of many of these declines and the threats that cause them. For example, the eastern quoll once ranged over most of eastern NSW but is now found only in Tasmania. It became extinct locally in NSW before any population estimates had been undertaken. In western NSW, 24 species of mammals became locally extinct between European settlement in 1841 and Federation in 1901 (Morton 1990; Lunney et al. 2000).

Much effort has gone into arresting declines that largely occurred before 1995 when the NSW Government recognised the need to formally protect native species. A focus on the extent of declines in species has the potential to mask recent achievements in stabilising declines and recovering some species.

The status of species under threat varies regionally and across Australia. Some species lost from NSW, such as the pig-footed bandicoot, are extinct throughout Australia, while others, such as the numbat, are still found in other parts of Australia. A number of species no longer exist on the mainland of NSW but survive on predator-free islands. The brush-tailed rock-wallaby is listed under both the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, but is under greater threat in Victoria than NSW. Conversely, the koala is threatened in NSW but not in Victoria, where it is regarded as over-abundant in some areas.

Long-term or wide-ranging monitoring of species and ecosystems based on observations in the field provides the best indication of the status and trends in biodiversity for some fauna groups where such data is available. Such data are complementary to new measures currently being developed, which aim to provide indirect estimates of the status of biodiversity based on remote sensing and modelling techniques. However, such techniques will still rely on field-based observations of biodiversity from relatively intact sites for comparison and validation.

Conservation status of vertebrate species

There are few studies available that have looked at data on the distribution and abundance, or the conservation status of a broad range of native species. The first comprehensive assessment of vertebrate fauna in NSW was undertaken in 1992 (Lunney et al. 2000) to determine which vertebrate species should be listed as threatened under the then newly introduced Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and conversely, those which did not require listing.

Most of the extinctions of native fauna that had occurred in NSW were found to be small- to medium-sized species of ground-dwelling mammals, including small wallabies, native mice, bandicoots and bettongs (Dickman et al. 1993; Lunney et al. 2000). Many of these species inhabited arid shrublands and grasslands in the west of the State and most of them had become extinct by the end of the nineteenth century, largely due to predation by foxes and cats and overgrazing by stock. Other factors that may also have contributed to the decline included altered fire regimes and competition with invasive species, such as rabbits and goats, for habitat and food as well as the general degradation of habitat they cause.

The habitat where the highest levels of mammal extinctions has occurred, by number and proportion, is the semi-arid shrubland in the west of the State, with 18 extinct species (Lunney et al. 2000). Nine of the 12 species of birds that are extinct in NSW were previously found only on Lord Howe Island, with introduced rodents and human settlement being manly responsible for their demise. The other three species were found in central or western NSW.

Declines in distribution of vertebrate species

A subsequent study (Mahon et al. 2011; DECCW 2009) conducted under the auspices of the NSW Natural Resources Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Strategy 2010–2015 (DECCW 2010a), used species survey records to provide further evidence that the decline of NSW species was ongoing and concluded that the long-term prospects of survival for many species were poor.

The study described changes in species distributions since European settlement, specifically losses or contractions in range, for all species with adequate and reliable data. This assessment made use of all available data of sufficient quality from species surveys collected rigorously and continuously, but not necessarily systematically, over the past 200 years. It assessed all records in the Atlas of NSW of Wildlife and the Atlas of Australian Birds. Current records (those collected in the past 12 years) were compared to historical records to build up a cumulative record of patterns of distribution over a 200 year timeframe. As these outcomes are only expected to change slowly and over much longer time frames than the present three-year cycle of State of the Environment (SoE) reporting, the results of the 2009 analysis are still relevant.

The outcomes of this analysis were determined for mammal, bird, amphibian and reptile groups. Of the 897 species of native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians assessed, distributional changes could be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence for about half of the species in all groups. The results for birds and mammals are shown in Figure 12.1 illustrating the biggest and smallest changes for the different vertebrate groups.

Figure 12.1a: Long-term (200 years) loss of distribution for native birds

Notes:

Presumed extinct – 100% change (contraction) in distribution
Severe decline – 50–<100% change in distribution
Moderate decline – 25–<50% change in distribution
No significant decline – less than 25% change in distribution

n = the total number of species recorded as inhabiting NSW at the time of European settlement, but not including species regarded as ‘vagrants’ (occasional or accidental sightings of species well outside their normal range). Total differs from that used in Figure 12.6.

Source:
Mahon et al. 2011 DECCW 2009

Figure 12.1b: Long-term (200 years) loss of distribution for native mammals

Notes:

Presumed extinct – 100% change (contraction) in distribution
Severe decline – 50–<100% change in distribution
Moderate decline – 25–<50% change in distribution
No significant decline – less than 25% change in distribution

n = the total number of species recorded as inhabiting NSW at the time of European settlement, but not including species regarded as ‘vagrants’ (occasional or accidental sightings of species well outside their normal range). Total differs from that used in Figure 12.6.

Source:
Mahon et al. 2011 DECCW 2009

Over the longer term, the described outcomes for birds have been much better than for mammals, with only 2% of bird species (12 out of 452) becoming extinct compared with 19% of mammals (26 of 138 species). Contractions of range of 50% or more (including extinctions) involved only 6% of birds (31 species) compared with 29% of mammals (40 species). Range contractions have been experienced by 64% of all mammals.

The data reveals that, historically, birds have been significantly less susceptible to the pressures resulting in range contraction that have affected other terrestrial vertebrates, particularly mammals. If the figures for bird extinctions on Lord Howe Island (where nine of the 12 extinctions occurred), are excluded, the resilience of bird species on mainland NSW is even more pronounced.

Most current surveys of change in the numbers or distribution of species over time, tend to be narrower in scope and more constrained in the numbers of species and the areas surveyed than the long-term historical data described previously. However, the greater accuracy of the data from these surveys is useful to corroborate the findings of the broader long-term surveys by providing supporting information that is more reliable and up-to-date. The outcomes of these surveys are quite variable, demonstrating that different species and groups have different responses to environmental disturbances and pressures. A uniform trend does not apply to outcomes for all species. The surveys are mostly limited to selected mammals and birds, which on their own do not provide a sufficient basis for broader generalisations about outcomes for biodiversity.

Bird surveys

In contrast to the relatively good outcomes for birds recorded over longer time frames, more recent surveys indicate that these outcomes may not be sustainable. Shorter-term data on bird populations produced over the previous 15 years shows that the numbers and range of some birds have declined significantly (Garnett et al. 2010; Mahon et al. 2011). Populations of woodland birds have declined the most (MacNally et al. 2009; Paton & O’Connor 2010), due to the extensive clearing of woodlands described in the Native Vegetation topic and the decline in habitat condition due to the Millennium Drought.

The State of Australia’s Birds

The State of Australia’s Birds 2015 (Birdlife Australia 2015) developed indices for terrestrial birds for various regions and bird groups across Australia. The indices were developed from rigorous scientific analysis of Australia’s largest dataset of bird sightings, collected by thousands of volunteers across the country.

These indices describe average outcomes for different groups of bird species. The results are quite variable across the different regions defined in the study and across groups (Birdlife Australia 2015). For birds that occur in several regions, quite different trends were often observed across these regions - only 10% of 137 species found across three or more regions showed a consistent overall trend.

Much of the East coast and South-east mainland regions fall within NSW. Indices for groups of East coast birds did not follow a uniform pattern, with two indices in 2013 well above the 1999 baseline and five below (see Figure 12.2). While the index value for rainforest birds displayed a marked increase, aerial insectivores and hollow-nesting birds showed clear declines. The patterns were less distinct for South-east mainland birds. Four indices were slightly above the baseline level and two slightly below, with differing outcomes observed for individual species within most of these groups.

Figure 12.2: Indices for east coast birds, 1997–2013

Line chart showing variable outcomes for 8 different groups of east coast birds
Source:
Birdlife Australia 2015

Part of the Eastern Mallee region also occurs within NSW. All bird indices in this region showed declining values, with the greatest decline in Mallee woodland dependent birds. Only a small part of the Arid Zone occurs in NSW. Four bird indices showed declines in value, while a further two indices remained at around baseline levels.

Threatened Species Index for Australian birds

A collaborative project led by the University of Queensland and Birds Australia is developing a framework for a Threatened Species Index for Australia, based on the Living Planet Index method (Collen et al. 2009). A publicly accessible web visualisation app was launched in November 2009 enabling interrogation of the index and data downloads. Indexes for other groups are expected to follow.

To develop the Threatened Bird Index for Australia, an aggregated database was compiled with contributions from more than 130 data government and non-government agencies and citizen science groups. Bird species were grouped into four functional groups depending on the habitats they prefer in order to relate trends to the threats in those habitats:

  • marine
  • shoreline
  • terrestrial
  • wetland.

An initial index was calculated for NSW on data for 16 species of threatened and near threatened birds. The year 1985 was chosen as the baseline for this index with the value set to one in that year, but the app allows other baselines to be set. The trend for NSW was a decrease in the index value of 78% compared to the 1985 baseline.        

However, great care is needed in interpreting these early results. From the initial baseline set at 1985, the index shows a sharp decline. In 1985, data is only available for about four species of shorebirds known to be strongly declining and this is reflected in the results. The index pattern flattens out from about 2000 when data for about 20 species is available.      

It should also be noted that:

  • it is likely that a decreasing trend would be observed as all threatened species have been listed due to previously observed declines in their populations
  • not all species have sufficient data to be included in the analysis, so the index is not fully representative
  • for at least some species, more monitoring effort is likely to have occurred at sites where recovery programs are underway.

As more data for more species is added the index will become more robust in reflecting broader patterns for threatened bird species. It appears that coverage that is more representative of overall outcomes for threatened birds will likely be provided for a shorter period, from a baseline reset to a more recent starting point.

Figure 12.3: NSW index of threatened birds, 1985–2015

Line chart of threatened species index - showing sharp decline from base year of 1985 before flattening out around 2000
Source:
Threatened bird index database 2018

WildCount

WildCount uses photo-trap images captured on remotely deployed cameras (see Image 12.1) to monitor species distribution and occupancy patterns of commonly occurring land-based animals in national parks and reserves. The program is monitoring species trends over 10 years from 2012–2022. Monitoring occurs at 200 sites located within the reserve system across eastern NSW, (see Image 12.2).

Image 12.1: Long-nosed bandicoot captured by WildCount camera

Black and white image of bandicoot foraging captured by WildCount camera at night
Source:
WildCount 2018

Image 12.2: WildCount study area

Map showing study area of WildCount program - NPWS reserves along the east coast of NSW
Source:
OEH data 2018

The program aims to identify changes in the presence and absence of species so that species occupancy can be used as an indicator of abundance and the risk of extinction for these species.

Data are now available for the first five years of monitoring from 2012–2016 (OEH 2017). About 160 species have been recorded and new locations have been identified for more than 15 threatened species.

Species occupancy models (Figure 12.4) based on the proportion of sites occupied by a species were developed for 39 of the most commonly found species. These included:

  • 17 species of native mammals
  • 14 species of birds
  • 1 reptile
  • 7 feral animals.

The models indicate that two species are likely to be declining - the long-nosed bandicoot and the rabbit; and five species are likely to be increasing -the mountain brushtail possum, satin bowerbird, spotted quail-thrush, wonga pigeon, and feral pig (Table 12.1). No trend was identified in the other 32 species monitored. Longer term data across the full 10 years of the program will be needed to confirm the patterns detected in the data to this point.

Figure 12.4: Occupancy model for long-nosed bandicoot

Source:
WildCount data 2018

Table 12.1: WildCount species occupancy estimates

Species Trend First (2012) Last (2016) Difference Proportional change (%)
Long-nosed bandicoot Down 0.409 0.318 0.091 -22.3
Rabbit Down 0.295 0.141 -0.154 -52.2
Mountain brushtail possum Up 0.070 0.097 0.027 38.6
Spotted quail-thrush Up 0.163 0.242 0.079 48.5
Wonga pigeon Up 0.208 0.319 0.111 53.4
Satin bowerbird Up 0.108 0.628 0.520 481.5
Feral pig Up 0.097 0.246 0.149 153.6
Source:
WildCount data 2018

Kangaroo surveys

In contrast to most smaller ground-dwelling mammals, the four largest kangaroo species in NSW (the red, western grey and eastern grey kangaroos and the wallaroo) are among the most abundant mammals in the State.

Kangaroo research, monitoring and management has been conducted in the commercial harvesting zones of NSW for more than 42 years, under the NSW Kangaroo Management Program. This is the longest running field monitoring study of wildlife in Australia.

The population sizes of the large kangaroo species in the Western Division of NSW have been estimated by aerial survey every year since about 1975. The Northern Tablelands and South-east NSW regions were added to the monitoring program in 2001 and 2003 respectively, while the Central Tablelands have been monitored since 2010. Tablelands regions are monitored on rotation, once every three years. The aerial survey methods have improved over time, increasing the precision and accuracy of the population estimates.

Figure 12.5 shows the variation in estimates of total kangaroo population, since 1975. Declines in population are largely consistent with periods of drought and population increases correspond with increased rainfall.

Figure 12.5: Changes in the estimated population of large kangaroo species in NSW, 1975–2017

Source:
OEH data 2018

Freshwater fish surveys

Ten of the 29 native freshwater fish species found in the NSW portion of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) are listed as threatened with extinction under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act). The status of native freshwater fish communities in NSW has been monitored on an ongoing basis for over 20 years.

Data are collected on:

  • nativeness (the proportion of native versus introduced fish)
  • expectedness (the presence of native fish species compared to historic distributions)
  • the recruitment of juvenile fish.

This monitoring provides what is probably the most complete picture of the distribution and abundance of any group of native species in NSW, as well as insight into the factors that are driving changes in the populations of native fish species (Riches et al. 2016).

The status of NSW fish communities in 2015 is displayed online for all NSW river basins. Over the past three years data on fish communities were collected from about 800 locations in the MDB and coastal rivers in northern NSW. No new data is available for the remaining coastal rivers over the past three years. The methods for sampling and analysis remain consistent with previous reporting and are described in Muschal et al. 2010; MDBA 2017.

The latest results indicate that the overall condition of native freshwater fish communities has improved within most river valleys of the Murray-Darling Basin, with eight valleys improving, two declining and five valleys remaining the same. Of the 15 MDB catchment valleys, only the Paroo was rated as being in ‘good’ condition, with the Lower Murray and Darling Rivers being in ‘moderate’ condition. Despite the overall improvement, 80% of valleys in the MDB are still in a ‘poor’ or worse condition.

The overall rating for expectedness improved from ‘very poor’ (index value of 33) to ‘poor’ (46). The proportion of native to non-native fish also improved from ‘very poor’ (index value of 38) to ‘poor’ (55).

These changes represent a return to a slightly better condition than was observed prior to the increase in numbers of common carp following extensive rains in 2010–11. Native fish recruitment was stable, with average index scores of 42 and 44. (For further detail see the River Health topic).

Introduced fish species compete for food and space with native fish and frogs. Over the past three years the surveys found:

  • only 13% of the sites sampled (mainly coastal rivers) were free from introduced fish
  • 4% contained only introduced fish.

Averaged across all sites, introduced species made up:

  • 36% of all the fish species collected
  • 37% of total fish numbers
  • 58% of total fish biomass (DPI data 2015–17).

It should be noted that most of the sites sampled were within the Murray-Darling Basin, which has much lower ‘nativeness’ than coastal rivers. (For further detail see the Invasive Species topic).

Species that are not threatened

Where the total number of species in a group is known and there is enough information to systematically assess their conservation status, the overall prospects for survival for the group can be described by looking at changes in the proportion of species that are listed as threatened over time. This information is available for terrestrial vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) and is shown in Figure 12.6.

Of the 903 land-based vertebrate species that inhabited NSW, 664 (or 74%) were not listed as threatened when the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 was introduced, following the first assessment of conservation status (described above). By December 2017, this number had declined to 578 or (64%). The deteriorating conservation status of these species reflects the increasing pressures affecting the biodiversity of NSW and other less well-studied groups are likely to be similarly declining.

Figure 12.6: Changes in the number of vertebrate species not listed as threatened under the Threatened Species Conservation or Biodiversity Conservation Acts, 1995–2017

Notes:

For the purposes of this analysis, ‘vertebrate species’ refers to mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians listed under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, which was replaced by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

It does not include fish, which are listed separately under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 or marine mammals about which less is known due to their cryptic lifestyles and habits.

Source:
OEH data 2018

Species with stable populations

Assessments of change in the distribution and abundance of species tend to focus on declines because these are the most common type of change. The Threatened Species topic deals exclusively with species that are declining in numbers as their survival has been assessed to be at risk in the longer term.

However, Figure 12.6 shows that overall, fewer species are considered to be threatened than not threatened. Figure 12.1 also shows that most bird species have not experienced contractions in range over the longer term, although more recent surveys of birds indicate that numbers are decreasing in some habitat types or groups. Even in the case of land-based mammals, if the figures for extinctions are excluded, slightly more species now have stable than declining distributions. Therefore, while many species are declining in numbers and range due to a variety of human-caused disturbances, many others have been less susceptible to existing pressures and have maintained relatively stable populations.

Some species are more adaptable and can take advantage of human disturbances to create or occupy new habitat niches, sometimes to the extent that they may be considered a nuisance. The issue may be local, such as:

  • brush-tailed possums in the roofs of houses
  • ibis near airport runways or at waste disposal sites
  • flying-foxes in orchards, or near houses and schools.

Or the issue may be regional, as in the case of kangaroos on rural lands.

There is also some limited evidence that a few native species may be expanding in numbers or range, but such outcomes are rarely studied and difficult to demonstrate conclusively. In a few instances, species of native freshwater fish (eel-tailed catfish, climbing galaxias) and native garden plants (Sweet Pittosporum, Cootamundra Wattle) have become invasive after being translocated from their natural habitats.

Pressures

Listing of key threatening processes

The biodiversity of NSW is subject to an increasing number and range of threats. The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) and the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act) both list the key threatening processes (KTPs) that impact on listed threatened species. At 31 December 2017, there were 46 KTPs listed for NSW - 38 under the BC Act and eight under the FM Act. There is some overlap, with climate change, shark meshing and changes to river flow regimes listed under both Acts in slightly different ways.

Table 12.2 summarises the types of KTPs listed. Over half of them relate to invasive species, with 24 associated with pests and weeds and a further five pertaining to pathogens and diseases. Ten KTPs relate to the clearing and disturbance of native habitat.

Table 12.2: Key threatening processes listed in NSW, 2017

Issue Number of KTPs
Invasive species 24
Habitat change 10
Disease 5
Over-exploitation 3
Climate change 2
Altered fire regimes 1
Pollution 1
Total 46

Notes:

As at 31 December 2017

Source:
OEH and DPI data 2017

It should be noted that not all these threats are equivalent in effect and the numbers are not necessarily indicative of the cumulative impact of any type of threat. For example, it is expected that over time climate change will become one of the most significant threats described here.

Main threats to biodiversity and threatened species

When a species, population or ecological community is listed as threatened under the BC Act or the FM Act, the main pressures and threats affecting its conservation status are described in the listing. These threats were analysed for all threatened species listed at the time of analysis under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, (the predecessor to the current BC Act), to identify those that have the greatest impact on biodiversity and the environment in NSW (Coutts-Smith & Downey 2006).

The pressures affecting the largest number of threatened species in NSW were the clearing and disturbance of native vegetation (87%), followed by invasive pest and weed species (70%).

Clearing and habitat destruction

The clearing of native vegetation results in the direct loss of species and the destruction of habitat. It is followed by lag effects due to disturbance from subsequent land uses and the fragmentation of remnant vegetation, which impedes regeneration and the movement of species across the landscape and leads to a loss of genetic diversity (Cogger et al. 2007; Taylor & Dickman 2014).

Invasive species

Invasive species have contributed to the decline of many native species. Pest animals, particularly foxes and cats, are likely to have had the greatest impact on native fauna and are considered to be responsible for the majority of fauna extinctions on mainland NSW (Morton 1990; Dickman 1996a; Dickman 1996b). Black rats have had a similar effect on Lord Howe Island, while carp is now the predominant species in most rivers of the Murray Darling Basin.

Climate change

As many Australian species are adapted to highly variable climates, they are likely to have the capacity to cope with some level of climate change. However, the resilience of many species may have been eroded by existing pressures, which have resulted in the declines in numbers or range described in this topic. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the effects of existing threats and introduce additional pressures (Steffen et al. 2009; DECCW 2010a; Hughes 2011). It is likely that climate change will surpass habitat destruction as the greatest global threat to biodiversity over coming decades (Leadley et al. 2010). For further information see the Climate Change topic.

Other threats

Water extraction and altered river flows and cycles have an impact on the critical ecological processes that trigger breeding in a range of aquatic and bird species (see the River Health topic), while altered fire regimes impact on the ability of plant species and communities to regenerate or repropagate.

Most of the main threats to biodiversity in NSW are described in greater detail in other sections of this report, including:

  • clearing, fragmentation and the disturbance of native vegetation (see Native Vegetation);
  • the introduction and spread of invasive species – pests, weeds, diseases and pathogens (see Invasive Species)
  • overgrazing by cattle, sheep and invasive herbivores (see Native Vegetation)
  • water extraction and changes to river flows (see Water Resources)
  • increasing populations and expanding human settlements (see Population)
  • the increasing impacts of climate change (see Climate Change).

Threats not dealt with specifically in other sections of this report include:

  • altered fire regimes due to European settlement
  • the indirect impacts of development, particularly in new areas where high rates of mortality and injury to wildlife can occur
  • disturbance to behaviour and breeding cycles from infrastructure, noise and lighting (Byron et al. 2014).

It should be noted that many of these threats can operate together to have a cumulative impact and hasten the decline of species and communities. Sometimes these impacts may be synergistic, where the cumulative impact is greater than the sum of the individual pressures (Raffaele et al. 2011; Goldman Martone & Wasson 2008; Simberloff & Von Holle 1999).

Lack of information

It is unrealistic to expect that a full range of biodiversity could ever be monitored systematically with available resources. It is therefore an ongoing challenge to optimise monitoring information so that it informs decision-making for managing biodiversity effectively.

Although knowledge of the conservation status of species has improved markedly over the past 20 years, especially on the distribution and abundance of land-based vertebrates, less is known about other groups. Patterns of decline that are likely to have been present for many years are still being discovered in the less well-studied groups of species. For most invertebrates, microorganisms and many plant groups, which comprise the vast majority of species, information exists for only a few isolated species and this provides little insight into the broader status and management needs of these groups.

The 2014 Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review panel recommended the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring and reporting on the extent and quality of biodiversity in NSW (Byron et al. 2014). Such a system would improve the availability of information to more effectively track the status of all species in NSW. This recommendation was adopted by the NSW Government and new techniques for monitoring biodiversity are under development.

Responses

Legislation and policy

Biodiversity Conservation Act 

Following the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review, sweeping reforms were made to the legislative framework for land management and biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity legislation in NSW has been consolidated under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act), which replaces the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act), Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and the plant and animal provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. A new rural land management framework was also introduced with the Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016, which replaced the Native Vegetation Act 2003. The laws commenced on 25 August 2017.

Protections for aquatic and marine species remain in the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act). Amendments to the FM Act are being progressed during 2018 to make this legislation consistent with the BC Act and the Common Assessment Method for national listing of threatened species.

Policy and guidelines for fish habitat conservation and management

In 2013, an updated policy and guidelines were published to maintain and enhance the habitat of native fish species (including threatened species) in the marine, estuarine and freshwater environments (DPI 2013).

Programs

Saving our Species program

The Saving our Species program (SoS) aims to maximise the number of threatened species that can be secured in the wild in NSW for 100 years. SoS plays a pivotal role in threatened species conservation, and its systematic and pragmatic approach has been formally adopted in the BC Act. Through SoS, land-based threatened species have been allocated to one of six management streams, depending on their distribution, ecology, security and what is known about them. The six management streams are:

  • Site-­managed species: species that can be successfully secured by targeting conservation projects, such as weeding or revegetation, at specific sites (e.g. the smoky mouse, eastern bristlebird and granite rose)
  • Iconic species: six species that are especially valued by the community – the koala, brush­-tailed rock­-wallaby, mallee fowl, plains wanderer, southern corroboree frog and Wollemi pine
  • Data-­deficient species: species where there isn’t sufficient information to allocate them to another management stream (e.g. Sloane's froglet, finger panic grass and the matted bush pea)
  • Landscape-­managed species: species that are distributed across large areas and threatened across the landscape by habitat loss and degradation (e.g. the green-thighed frog, pale-­headed snake, yellow­-bellied glider and giant dragonfly)
  • Partnership species: species that are threatened nationally and have important populations in NSW, that will have conservation projects developed to protect them (e.g. the black-striped wallaby and dwarf bush-pea)
  • Keep watch species: species that require no immediate investment because they are either naturally rare, have few critical threats, or are more abundant than previously assumed (e.g. for example Hall's babbler and the spiny mintbush).

Priorities for action under SoS are species in the site-­managed, iconic, data-­deficient and landscape-­managed species management streams. Threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes are also priority actions areas.

In 2016­–17, SoS conservation projects benefited from approximately $23 million in cash and in-­kind contributions from OEH including the Environmental Trust ($16.3 million) and external organisations ($6.7 million). There were 305 active SoS projects across the six management streams, including:

  • six iconic species projects
  • 239 site-­managed species projects
  • nine landscape-­managed species projects
  • one partnership species project
  • 41 data-­deficient species projects
  • two keep watch species projects.

Key actions for these projects include:

  • pest and weed control
  • habitat and site protection and management
  • community and landholder engagement
  • translocation and ex-situ conservation (e.g. captive breeding)
  • research.

Research on data-­deficient species has led to recommendations to move 15 species to a new management stream.

The NSW Government pledged an additional $100 million over five years from 2016–17 to protect the state's threatened species.

Reintroduction of locally extinct mammals

Since 2015, the NSW Government has been working with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the University of New South Wales to reintroduce more than 10 species of locally extinct mammals into some public reserves in NSW. The reintroduction of locally extinct mammals is a significant component of the SoS program.

Feral-free fences will protect 180,000 hectares of land from feral predators such as foxes and cats in Sturt National Park, Mallee Cliffs National Park and Pilliga State Conservation Area. Mammals will be reintroduced into these areas following the removal of introduced predators and other pest animals.

In Pilliga State Conservation Area, a 5,900-hectare area of natural habitat will be protected from feral predators and at least six locally extinct mammal species will be reintroduced.

In Mallee Cliffs National Park, an 8,000-hectare area will be protected for at least 10 locally extinct mammal species.

Wildlife licensing

The BC Act established a new risk-based approach to managing wildlife actions through a tiered framework that:

  • permits low-risk activities through Biodiversity Conservation Regulations,
  • allows moderate risk activities under a code of practice,
  • ensures high risk activities will continue to require a licence,
  • provides for actions that have direct impacts on biodiversity, including threatened species, to be treated as offences under the BC Act.

The NSW Government has been consulting with stakeholders to identify which actions should continue to require licensing, and which should be regulated by codes of practice and regulations. This process is ongoing.

Identifying areas of outstanding biodiversity value

The BC Act enables the Minister for the Environment to declare Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value (AOBVs). AOBVs are special areas that contain irreplaceable biodiversity values that are important to the whole of NSW, Australia or globally. AOBVs will be a priority for investment in private land conservation.

Existing areas of declared critical habitat under the old TSC Act (Wollemi pine and little penguin habitats) became AOBVs when the BC Act came into effect.

Listing of threatened species and communities

The BC Act modernised the process for listing threatened plants and animals. It aligns threat categories with international best practice and provides greater coordination between Australian jurisdictions. The Biodiversity Conservation Regulations prescribes listing criteria for threatened plants and animals which align with standards developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Commonwealth, state and territory governments agreed to establish a common method for assessing and listing threatened species. The process of alignment of assessment and listing under the common assessment method is ongoing. This will reduce duplication of effort among governments by allowing jurisdictions to adopt listing assessments undertaken by other jurisdictions and will lead to better conservation outcomes for Australia's species.

NSW public reserves system

The public reserves system is the cornerstone of conservation efforts in NSW. It plays a vital role in protecting habitat and provides a refuge for many threatened species that are sensitive to habitat disturbance.

The NSW public reserves system covers around 7.14 million hectares or about 9% of the state (see the Protected Areas and Conservation topic). It conserves representative areas of most habitats and ecosystems, and the majority of plant and animal species found in NSW are represented in the public reserve system. Under the new BC Act there is an increased focus on conservation measures on private land to supplement land managed for conservation in the public reserve system.

NSW Koala Strategy

The NSW Government recognises the koala as an iconic threatened species and is committed to stabilising and increasing koala populations across NSW. In May 2018 the government released the NSW Koala Strategy, committing $44.7 million towards securing the future of koalas in the wild. The Strategy will support a range of conservation actions over three years.

The NSW Koala Strategy will deliver:

  • $20 million from the NSW Environmental Trust to purchase and permanently conserve land that contains priority koala habitat in the national park estate
  • $3 million to build a new koala hospital at Port Stephens
  • $3.3 million to fix priority road-kill hotspots across NSW
  • $4.5 million to improve the care of sick or injured koalas
  • $6.9 million to improve our knowledge of koalas, starting with the development of a statewide koala habitat information base
  • $5 million to deliver local actions to protect koala populations, including through the SoS program
  • $2 million to research impacts of natural hazards and weather events on koalas.

The NSW Koala Strategy responds to the Independent Review into the Decline of Koala Populations in Key Areas of NSW (NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer 2016), which recommended a whole-of-government koala strategy for NSW. An expert advisory committee chaired by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer guided the strategy’s development along with extensive community and stakeholder consultation.

Management and control of invasive species

Once established, the eradication of invasive species is seldom feasible. Therefore, control of some high-priority invasive species, such as foxes and bitou bush, is specifically targeted at sites of high conservation value. Control is delivered through threat abatement plans which facilitate whole-of-government coordination across agencies and local authorities.

Broad scale rabbit control is being provided through the release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, while rats, mice and rabbits have been eradicated from some NSW islands. Local Land Service are responsible for identifying priority weeds regionally and developing programs to manage them (see the Invasive Species topic).

Adaptation to climate change

Priorities for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change (DECCW 2010b) was produced in response to the listing of anthropogenic climate change as a key threatening process under the BC Act. This identifies priority measures for dealing with the effects of climate change over the next five years, focusing on four key areas:

  • enhancing understanding of the likely responses of biodiversity to climate change and readjusting management programs where necessary
  • protecting a diverse range of habitats by building a comprehensive, adequate and representative public reserve system in NSW, with a focus on under-represented bioregions
  • increasing opportunities for species to move across the landscape by working with partners and the community to protect habitat and increase connectivity by consolidating areas of vegetation in good condition
  • assessing adaptation options for ecosystems most at risk from climate change in NSW.

A key threatening processes strategy has been prepared for the SoS program, that includes adaptation processes in response to climate change following the listing of Climate change as a KTP.

The AdaptNSW website provides comprehensive climate change information, analysis and data to support action to address climate change risks and capture opportunities. It includes information on the causes of climate change and the likely impacts on biodiversity. For further information see the Climate Change topic.

Future opportunities

Measures to improve connectivity across landscapes and build the health and resilience of the land will enhance the capacity of species and ecosystems to adapt to, and cope with, disturbance.

More information about the factors contributing to the resilience or success of some native species and processes, in contrast to the declines of many others, may assist in efforts to maintain sustainable populations of flora and fauna species.

References

References for Native Fauna

Birdlife Australia 2015, The State of Australia’s Birds 2015, Birdlife Australia, Melbourne [ https://birdlife.org.au/education-publications/publications/state-of-australias-birds]

Byron N, Craik W, Keniry J & Possingham H 2014, A review of biodiversity legislation in NSW: Final Report, Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel, Office of Environment & Heritage, Sydney [www.environment.nsw.gov.au/biodiversitylegislation/review-panel.htm]

Cogger H, Dickman C & Ford H 2007, The Impacts of the Approved Clearing of Native Vegetation on Australian Wildlife in New South Wales, WWF-Australia, Sydney

Collen B, Loh J, Whitmee S, McRae L, Amin R & Baillie JE 2009, ‘Monitoring change in vertebrate abundance: the living planet index’, Conservation Biology, 23(2), pp. 317–27, [doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01117.x]

Coutts-Smith AJ & Downey PO 2006, Impact of Weeds on Threatened Biodiversity in New South Wales, Technical Series no. 11, CRC for Australian Weed Management, Adelaide [www.researchgate.net/publication/264240230_The_Impact_of_Weeds_on_Threatened_Biodiversity_in_New_South_Wales]

DECCW 2009, New South Wales State of the Environment 2009, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney [https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/about-us/publications-and-reports/state-of-the-environment/state-of-the-environment-2009]

DECCW 2010a, NSW Natural Resources Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Strategy 2010–2015, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney [www.environment.nsw.gov.au/soc/socTechReports.htm]

DECCW 2010b, NSW Climate Impact Profile: The impacts of climate change on the biophysical environment of New South Wales, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney [www.environment.nsw.gov.au/publications/pubs2010.htm]

DECCW 2010c, Priorities for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Sydney [www.environment.nsw.gov.au/biodiversity/2010771prioritiesbioadaptcc.htm]

Dickman CR 1996a, ‘Impact of exotic generalist predators on the native fauna of Australia’, Wildlife Biology, 2(3), pp. 185–95 [www.wildlifebiology.com/Volumes/1996+-+Volume+2/Number+3/92/En]

Dickman CR 1996b, Overview of the Impacts of Feral Cats on Australian Native Fauna, Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra [www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/publications/cat-impacts.html]

Dickman CR, Pressey RL, Lim L & Parnaby HE 1993, ‘Mammals of particular conservation concern in the western division of New South Wales’, Biological Conservation, 65(3), pp. 219–48 [dx.doi.org/10.1016/0006-3207(93)90056-7]

Garnett ST, Szabo JK & Dutson G 2010, The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010, CSIRO, Melbourne [www.publish.csiro.au/pid/6781.htm]

Goldman Martone RA & Wasson KB 2008, ‘Impacts and interactions of multiple human perturbations in a California salt marsh', Oecologia, 158(1), pp. 151–63 [dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00442­008­1129­4]

Hughes L 2011, ‘Climate change and Australia: key vulnerable regions’, Regional Environmental Change, 11(1) Supplement, pp. S189–95 [dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10113-010-0158-9]

Larsen B, Miller C, Rhodes M & Wiens J 2017, ‘Inordinate Fondness Multiplied and Redistributed: The Number of Species on Earth and the New Pie of Life’, The Quarterly Review of Biology, 92(3), pp. 229–65 [https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3da3/17681a46f1c6eeb3e99cdf7b6b0210b45c86.pdf (PDF 0.7MB)]

Leadley P, Pereira HM, Alkemade R, Fernandez-Manjarrés JF, Proença V, Scharlemann JPW & Walpole MJ 2010, Biodiversity Scenarios: Projections of 21st century change in biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, Technical Series no. 50, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada [www.cbd.int/ts]

Lunney D, Curtin AL, Ayers D, Cogger HG, Dickman CR, Maitz W, Law B & Fisher D 2000, ‘The threatened and non-threatened native vertebrate fauna of New South Wales: Status and ecological attributes’, Environmental and Heritage Monograph Series, no. 4, pp. 1–132, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney

MacNally R, Bennett AF, Thomson JR, Radford JQ, Unmack G, Horrocks G & Vesk PA 2009, ‘Collapse of an avifauna: climate change appears to exacerbate habitat loss and degradation’, Diversity and Distributions, 15(4), pp. 720–30 [dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1472-4642.2009.00578.x]

Mahon P, King S, O’Brien C, Barclay C, Gleeson P, McIlwee A, Penman S & Schulz M 2011, Assessing the Sustainability of Native Fauna in NSW, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Program, Technical report series, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Sydney [www.environment.nsw.gov.au/soc/socTechReports.htm]

MDBA 2017, 2017 Basin Plan Evaluation: Native Fish, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra [https://www.mdba.gov.au/sites/default/files/pubs/Native-fish.pdf (PDF 4.9MB)]

Morton SR 1990, ‘The impact of European settlement on the vertebrate animals of arid Australia: A conceptual model’, in Saunders DA, Hopkins AJM & How RA, Australian Ecosystems: 200 years of utilisation, degradation and reconstruction, Proceedings of a symposium held in Geraldton, Western Australia, 28 August–2 September 1988, Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia, 16, pp. 201–13

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer 2016, Independent Review into the Decline of Koala Populations in Key Areas of NSW, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Sydney [www.chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/94519/161202-NSWCSE-koala-report.pdf (PDF 0.5MB)]

OEH 2017, Wildcount: Broad scale, long-term monitoring of fauna in NSW National Parks (Draft), Office of Environment & Heritage, Sydney

Paton D & O’Connor J 2010, ‘The state of Australia’s birds: Restoring woodlands habitats for birds’, Wingspan, 20(1), Supplement, Melbourne [https://birdlife.org.au/documents/SOAB-2009.pdf]

Raffaele EA, Veblen TTB, Blackhall MA & Tercero­-Bucardo NA 2011, ‘Synergistic influences of introduced herbivores and fire on vegetation change in northern Patagonia, Argentina’, Journal of Vegetation Science, 22(1), pp. 59–71

Riches M, Gilligan D, Danaher K & Pursey J 2016, Fish Communities and Threatened Species Distributions of NSW, 2nd edn, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sydney [www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/669589/fish-communities-and-threatened-species-distributions-of-nsw.pdf (PDF 4.8MB)]

Saunders D, Margules C & Hill B 1998, Environmental Indicators for National State of the Environment Reporting: Biodiversity, Department of the Environment, Canberra [www.environment.gov.au/soe/publications/indicators/biodiversity.html]

Simberloff D & Von Holle B 1999, ‘Positive interactions of nonindigenous species: Invasional meltdown?’, Biological Invasions, 1(1), pp. 21–32

Steffen W, Burbidge AA, Hughes L, Kitching R, Lindenmayer D, Musgrave W, Stafford Smith M & Werner P 2009, Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change: A strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change, Report to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, Department of Climate Change, CSIRO Publishing, Canberra [www.climatechange.gov.au/publications/biodiversity/biodiversity-climatechange.aspx]

Taylor MFJ & Dickman CR 2014, NSW Native Vegetation Act Saves Australian Wildlife, WWF-Australia, Sydney