Can We Have Our Biodiversity and Eat Too?

Australia's isolation from other continents over millions of years led to the evolution of many species that exist nowhere else, so called ‘endemic’ species. Of the ten megadiverse countries in the world, we are the only one that is labelled as ‘developed’ so have a global leadership role in getting the balance right. However, European settlement and the introduction of exotic species animals and plants have perturbed ecosystems, leading to changes in the distribution and abundance of many species. Extinctions of species in Australia now occur at 100–1000 times the ‘background’ rate. Land transformation—the clearing of natural habitat for grazing, cropping and infrastructure— has been a major driver of change and species loss. Overgrazing of native pastures is a particularly widespread problem, compounded by a changing climate and a higher incidence of drought in some areas. Drought also exacerbates damage to wetlands, as river flows are reduced by over-allocation of water to agriculture and other uses. However, recent transformations in the agriculture sector (e.g. water efficiency gains) and government policy (e.g. land clearing legislation) have halted the drivers of biodiversity loss. Now, agriculture should not be seen as the problem, but rather as the solution. The best chance for many species is persistence in an agricultural matrix, not the national parks system (which is inadequately funded to meet its management objectives). Significant progress can, for example, be made through habitat restoration, wetland creation and modifying grazing and fire management practices, all of which have major benefits through carbon sequestration. Biodiversity conservation areas should be integrated with agricultural land in ways that create almost win– win situations—I think we can have biodiversity and eat too. We need to prioritise ecosystems and species for conservation, and allocate resources accordingly. We also need to convince the conservation movement that preservation is only part of the solution—active and aggressive intervention is another way of conserving biodiversity. This will not be achieved easily without education of the Australian people and encouraging their love of the diversity of nature.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-11-13

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