Creating past habitat maps to quantify local extirpation of Australian threatened birds

Michelle Ward, James E.M. Watson, Hugh P. Possingham, Stephen T. Garnett, Martine Maron, Jonathan R. Rhodes, Chris Maccoll, Richard Seaton, Nigel Jackett, April E. Reside, Patrick Webster, Jeremy S. Simmonds

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Habitat loss is driving the extirpation of fauna across Earth. Many species are now absent from vast areas where they once occurred in inhabited continents, yet we do not have a good understanding of the extent to which different species have been locally extirpated, nor the degree to which range contractions and habitat loss has contributed to this local extirpation. Here, for the first time, we use a combination of scientific literature, historical sources, spatial data, and expert elicitation to map the past extent of potential habitats, and changes thereto, of 72 of Australia's most imperiled terrestrial birds. By comparing the area of potential habitat within the past and current ranges of these taxa, we quantify the extent over which each of Australia's threatened terrestrial birds have likely been extirpated and assess the amount and configuration of potential habitat that remains. Our results show that since 1750 (before European colonization), at least one extant taxon of threatened bird has disappeared from over 530 million hectares (69%) of Australia, through both range contractions and loss of potentially suitable habitat (noting these are not mutually exclusive phenomena). Ten taxa (14%) have likely been extirpated from >99% of their past potential habitat. For 56 taxa (78%), remaining habitat within their current potential habitats has become fragmented. This research paints a sobering picture of the extent of local extirpation of threatened birds from much of Australia over a 250 years time period. By mapping and quantifying this loss, these findings will help refine scientific understanding about the impact of habitat removal and other pervasive threats that are driving this observed extirpation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number024032
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


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