What are Threatened Species

Nationally Endangered - a southern brown bandicoot (juvenile). Photo courtesy of Luke Price. Taken at Scott Creek Conservation Park, 2012

Nationally Endangered – a southern brown bandicoot (juvenile). Photo courtesy of Luke Price. Taken at Scott Creek Conservation Park, 2012

A guest blog by Luke Price, Threatened Fauna Ecologist, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Region (Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources).

Each year National Threatened Species Day is held on the 7th of September. This day marks the death of the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) in 1936 at Hobart Zoo. The aim of the day is to reflect on extinct native species and how we can protect current threatened species into the future. Threatened Species Day is also for raising awareness, celebrating success stories and highlighting the importance of continued threatened species recovery work.

What are threatened species?

Most people will be familiar with words like ‘Threatened’ and ‘Endangered’. Yet despite their common usage, there is often confusion around their meaning, particularly in the context of threatened species conservation.

Simply, threatened species are those which are at risk of extinction in the near future. There can be many causes that lead a species being at risk of extinction, and not all species are threatened because of the same causes.

Categories and Criteria

Some species are at a higher risk of extinction than others, and threat categories are used to identify the level of extinction risk that each species is facing. A higher threat category indicates a greater risk of extinction.

There are various means of categorising extinction risk. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) categories and criteria are a widely accepted means of assessing a species’ risk of extinction. The IUCN categories, from highest risk to lowest, are:

  • Extinct (EX)
  • Extinct in the Wild (EW)
  • Critically Endangered (CE)
  • Endangered (E)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Least Concern (LC)

In addition to these categories, species can also be recognised as Data Deficient (DD) when there is a lack of information to make an assessment of its risk of extinction. In this category a species may be at risk of extinction, however more information is needed before it can reasonably be classified. Species can also be classified as Not Evaluated (NE), which is fairly self-explanatory.

It is worth noting that the previous version of the IUCN categories included a sub-category not in the current version, Conservation Dependent. Not all species are yet classified under the new IUCN categories, so some of this former terminology remains in use.

Vulnerable in South Australia - a Yellow-footed antechinus. Photo courtesy of Luke Price. Taken in Scott Creek Conservation Park.

Vulnerable in South Australia – a Yellow-footed antechinus. Photo courtesy of Luke Price. Taken in Scott Creek Conservation Park.

In addition to the IUCN categories and criteria, Australia has national legislation under which threatened species can be assessed and listed, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The categories under the EPBC Act broadly align with the IUCN categories.

There are also various state and regional categories and criteria for threatened species. In South Australia, the relevant legislation is the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW Act). Additionally, species are assessed at a regional level to assist with prioritisation and guide conservation and recovery actions. Again, these categories are generally based on those from IUCN. One difference is a Rare category which is effectively the same as Near Threatened.

Each categorisation involves a rigorous assessment of a species’ risk against set criteria. Four main themes used in these assessments are:

  • Reduction in population size
  • Geographic range or area of occupancy
  • Estimates of population size (number of mature individuals)
  • Probability of extinction in the wild

Within these broader criteria, substantial detail is sought and taken into account when making an assessment, including the number of locations at which the species exists, and if populations are severely fragmented.

How you can help Threatened Species

Unfortunately, the funding and resources available for conservation and recovery of South Australia’s threatened fauna and flora species are limited. Consequently, prioritisation of the allocation of funding and resources is undertaken. The threat categories are a valuable tool in helping with prioritisation and identifying those species at greatest risk of extinction. For many species, obtaining much-needed data on where they still occur, identifying threats and ways to best conserve them is very difficult. The population numbers of some threatened species are so low that they are incredibly hard to find. This is one of the many areas where citizen science projects, like Goanna Watch, can play a major role in helping with conservation and recovery programs. For example, the sightings of heath goannas, submitted to the Goanna Watch project, will help to build a picture of where these reptiles still occur and allow us to begin to develop recovery initiatives centred on these areas.

Learn more about local Threatened Species at Cleland Wildlife Park

You can see some of South Australia’s Threatened Species at Cleland Wildlife Park. You can download a list of Threatened Species at Cleland, including mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. The list includes the locations of the species and their threat categories. Click here to download the list (a 139kb PDF file).

There is more information about local Threatened Species on the website of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (click here).

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