Australia’s extinction rate has been linked to feral cats and foxes, which were introduced to the continent by early settlers. In the last 200 years, more than 10 percent of Australia’s land mammals have gone extinct. A recent study, which was published by the National Academy of Sciences, suggests non-native species are to blame for the alarming numbers.
Researchers have identified 273 species that were plentiful prior to colonization. Over the last 200 years, 30 of those species were declared extinct. Unfortunately, 56 species remain threatened.
John Woinarski, who led the study, said he “knew it was bad.” However, the “tallies were much worse than previously thought.”
Woinarski said many extinctions went undocumented, as the animals were small and generally nocturnal. However, researchers have now concluded that a majority of Australia’s extinct mammals were killed and eaten by feral cats and foxes.
As reported by BBC, early settlers brought red foxes to the continent for hunting. Unfortunately, the population continues to grow to the detriment of native species.
Feral cats made their way to Australia aboard ships. Although they were originally meant to control rats, the cats escaped the ships and thrived. An estimated 20 million feral cats are currently living on Australia’s mainland.
A majority of Australia’s extinct mammals are small rodents, which are the perfect prey for foxes and feral cats. Although rodents are often thought of as nuisance animals, they are an important part of Australia’s ecosystem.
As reported by Gulf News, massive wildfires have only compounded the issue. As the fires destroy underbrush, smaller mammals are left without food sources and shelter. Unfortunately, this leads to even more exposure to predators.
Duke University Biologist Stuart Pimm said the situation in Australia “should serve as a warning” to other countries.
“It tells us that by being careless, particularly with invasive species, that we can do an extraordinary amount of environmental harm… There are parts of the world where invasive species have gone amok… we need to be very careful not to bring in any more to do any more harm… “
Australia Species Extinction: Mystery Linked To Country’s First Settlers and their intro of European cats, foxes http://t.co/AKRwSBmtgX
— xraymike79 (@xraymike79) February 10, 2015
Biologists have made several suggestions to preserve Australia’s threatened species. Islands off the mainland do not have any foxes or feral cats, and they have not experienced high rates of extinction. Scientists have suggested increasing biosecurity on the islands to preserve remaining species.
They are also working on control measures to decrease the existing feral cat and fox populations.
Although Australia’s extinction rate is alarming, biologists are confident that they have identified two major culprits. Unfortunately, reducing the non-native species population will undoubtedly be a difficult task.
[Image via Catmoji]