New research has found that habitat loss is a major concern for hundreds ofAustralian bird species, and south eastern Australia has been the worstaffected.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, featuring University of Queenslandscientists, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almosttwo-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australiaand New South Wales.

Lead researcher, Dr Jeremy Simmonds, said the team looked at both threatenedand non-threatened birds, including common species.

“While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species,like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are cruciallyimportant,” Dr Simmonds said.

“Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollinationand their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health ofecosystems.

“Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among thegreatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important tounderstand how big the problem of habitat removal is: our research developed amethod to do this, called the Loss Index.

“We looked at how the amount of habitat available for each of Australia’s 447different land bird species had changed since 1750.

“In places like Queensland’s south-east and the Wet Tropics, each hectare offorest cleared can affect up to 180 different native bird species.

“Habitat loss has been particularly devastating for birds from south-eastAustralia; more than half of the 262 native birds in this region only have asmall fraction of their natural habitat remaining in this part of the country.

“Northern Australia and Australia’s arid zone have had the least habitat loss,as there has been much less vegetation clearing across that region.

“We also looked at different bird groups and found that Australia’s parrotspecies are more impacted by habitat loss, compared with birds of prey, likeeagles and owls.”

Dr Simmonds said the index provided a tool for conservation managers andplanners to better understand how habitat loss affects all birds, and not justthe endangered ones.

“It helps to show that every hectare of native vegetation that is removedchips away at remaining habitat for dozens and sometimes hundreds of species,including common species which typically do not receive conservationattention,” he said.

“The quality of the remaining habitat is often reduced, due to weeds, grazingand changed fire patterns, such as more and hotter fires, and this can furtherreduce the number and type of birds that an area can support.“

The Loss Index can also be applied to other species like mammals or plants.

The research was conducted by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of theAustralian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, a nationalinitiative to undertake science to help save Australia’s threatened species.

Image: An Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis). More than 60 per centof the birds of south-east mainland Australia have lost more than half oftheir natural habitat. Credit: Graham Winterflood.

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