Cities Are Critical for Threatened Wildlife

Over 500 of Australia's threatened species have populations living in cities and Australian cities can help to conserve these endangered animals and plants, say environmental scientists from the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED).

New research shows that our cities still have a remarkable number of threatened species, and that all cities and towns contain species that are officially listed as threatened. Sydney has the most, at 126 species, while Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA has the most distinct collection of animals found in an urban area, and Kempsey in NSW has the most unique plants.

The study explored the locations of Australia's 1,643 listed threatened species, and the extent to which they overlapped with 99 cities or towns. They found that 500 threatened and protected species are living within city areas. In fact, for 51 species more than 30 per cent of the area they occupy in Australia happens to be in cities or towns.

"This is the first study worldwide that shows just how many of our threatened species are actually hanging on in our cities," says Dr Pia Lentini of CEED and The University of Melbourne. "The finding was surprising because we generally write off cities as ‘lost causes' when it comes to conservation. We tend to imagine that threatened species are only found in far away national parks or remote areas.

"This shows that cities aren't just a threat to conservation. If we are plan our cities carefully, we can keep habitats that are important to Australia's amazing animals and plants and help conserve them into the future."

Examples of urban species at risk include the koala and the Cooneana olive found in Brisbane; the southern brown bandicoot and the fragrant doubletail orchid in Melbourne; the green and golden bell frog in Sydney; the superb parrot and Canberra spider orchid in Canberra; the black-footed tree-rat in Darwin; the forty-spotted pardalote and Basalt guinea-flower in Hobart; and the plum leek-orchid in Adelaide.

An adult male koala in Brisbane.

Co-author Dr Christopher Ives of CEED and RMIT University said some of these animals live in urban areas because fresh water or food are no longer as available in their natural habitats. "For example, we are increasingly seeing grey-head flying foxes and swift parrots in our cities because the nectar, fruit or blossoms that they feed on are more often found in urban habitats."

Another example is Carnaby's black cockatoo, which relies on introduced pine plantations around the city of Perth.

"We also found that some threatened plants are only found in urban environments, which means they can be easily wiped out if we don't plan carefully," said Dr Ives. "Examples include the fringed spider-orchid that lives on the edges of Melbourne – an area that is being developed rapidly, and the Nielsen Park she-oak that is found only within the metropolitan area of greater Sydney.

The findings highlight the importance of planning and managing our cities for conservation as well as human well-being. Apart from careful planning, small changes can help make the cities more friendly to native animals and plants, said Dr Lentini. "For instance, protecting big old trees with hollows, planting more trees, or having green roofs covered with plants can keep our cities cooler for us – and at the same time preserve threatened plants or animals.

"We also need to help species move between larger parks as they travel to find food, which means having corridors of trees and plants between green areas, instead of the current approach where parks are isolated islands in a sea of buildings.

"As our cities expand into coastal areas, something as simple as restricting dogs from beaches will avoid disturbing migratory shorebirds when they stop to rest.

"Each Australian city is home to a different and unique set of native animals and plants, so it's really important that we start to think of the role these places play in actually conserving threatened species, rather than ignoring them."

The study "Cities are hotspots for threatened species" by Christopher Ives, Pia Lentini, Caragh Threlfall, Karen Ikin, Danielle Shanahan, Georgia Garrard, Sarah Bekessy, Richard Fuller, Laura Mumaw, Laura Rayner, Ross Rowe, Leonie Valentine and Dave Kendal is published in Global Ecology and Biography.





Search Eco Investor