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  • Australian drought leaves agricultural land dried up in New South Wales, Australia. Jun. 2018

    Australian drought leaves agricultural land dried up in New South Wales, Australia. Jun. 2018 | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 December 2018

In a comprehensive study of Australia's plant population, scientists find that 418 species are declining in population, and 1,318 are on the brink of extinction.

More than 50 Australian plant species are expected to go extinct within a decade, with only 12 of them already listed as critically endangered under the government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

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The Australian Journal of Botany published the first major assessment of the status of Australia’s threatened flora in more than two decades.

Plants account for about 70 percent of Australia’s extinction list — 1,318 flora are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.

Scientists reviewed all available literature on the plants and conducted interviews with 125 botanists, ecologists and land manager experts and found that 418 plants have continued to decline in population over the past 20 years.

The scientists concluded that 55 species were at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years, with fewer than 250 individual plants or only a single population remaining, however dozens of species in critical condition were not on any list previously.

“This points to a clear need for re-evaluation and standardisation of current lists, and consistent application of IUCN listing guidelines,” the study states.

“There is also a need to collect systematic, repeatable field data for most of [the] species, to back up suspected and projected declines and provide a stronger basis for investment in recovery actions.”

The scientists added that there is still little known about many of the flora on the list pointing out the need for further surveys and monitoring to understand the true number of at risk flora.

Jennifer Silcock, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland, said many of the most at-risk species were concentrated in specific areas including southwestern Australia, south-eastern Queensland and the Sydney basin where rapid urban development is threatening the future of certain plant species.

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Many of the most vulnerable species are shrubs, and in Australia's more populated southern regions, orchids.

“Some of these species, it would just take a … truck … to accidentally run over them to destroy a whole population,” Silcock told The Guardian. “(The populations) are only a couple of meters wide.”

The major threats to most species include further habitat destruction and development, disease and weeds.

The paper calls for “concerted, targeted and efficient recovery efforts,” such as better habitat protection.

Silcock said while there was a very high risk of extinction for some plant species, their case doesn’t compare to Australian fauna that are on a “catastrophic march toward extinction.”

“Australian plant conservation is not the disaster zone that mammal conservation is,” said Silcock. “A lot of the species are doing quite well but it’s not a reason for complacency because a lot of these species are right on the edge.”

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