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Emerging Research: Impact of Invasive Species by the Numbers

New research sheds light on the invasive species that pose the greatest threat to Australia’s native wildlife.

Invasive species often monopolize the media in Australia and for good reason—Australia has one of the highest rates of extinction, largely due to invasive species. Some of the greatest threats wildlife today are introduced, invasive European rabbits, red foxes, and an invasive fungus is commonly known as root rot fungus (Phytophthora plant disease).  

When ranked in order of the number of species harmed, the invasive European rabbit comes in at number one affecting a whopping 321 native species. The impacts rabbits have on native flora and fauna are varied but among them, rabbits destroy native plants and can hinder their ability to regenerate. They also compete with native animals for their food source.

Invasive root rot fungus is a leading threat to native vegetation and infects susceptible plant species, most commonly impacting native tree species within Myrtaceae (the Myrtle family).  The damage to native vegetation goes on to impact wildlife that relies on plants for food and shelter.

island-conservation-preventing-extinctions-bottlebrush-myrtle-myrtaceae-university-of-queensland-root-rot-fungus-australia
Species like Verticordia grandiflora, found within Myrtaceae, are among the most susceptible to invasive root rot fungus. Credit: Kevin Thiele

One of the key species people talk about are invasive European red foxes, but are considered the sixth greatest threat, affecting 95 native species. Although, they are still a huge concern given their impact on a number of at-risk species as classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Stephen Kearney from the University of Queensland, who helped conduct the research in collaboration with Australia’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlighted: 

This does not mean foxes are not a problem, it means there are other really problematic pests out there that as a community we have not been talking about as much.”

This new research was conducted by The University of Queensland with the help of Australia’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub and provides renewed hope and direction for future conservation efforts. 

Invasive species in Australia and the number of species they affect: 
1. European rabbit (321) 
2. Phytophthora plant disease (236)
3. Feral pig (149)
4. Feral cat (123)
5. Feral goat (116)
6. European red fox (95) 
7. Lantana (95)
8. Blackberry (47)
9. Black rat (42)
10. Feral cattle (39)

Featured Photo: Acorn Banksia, a Bottlebrush species within Myrtaceae. Credit: Matthias Liffers
Source: Cosmos Magazine

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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