The wet tropics of Queensland have experienced a 25% increase in endangered species in the past three years, due to the impacts of climate change.
In Australia’s northern rainforests, the amount of endangered species listed on the world heritage list has risen by 25% from 2020. Ecologists have noted that this is evidence of the predicted effects of global warming.
The organization responsible for overseeing and preserving the Queensland wet tropics, a Unesco World Heritage Site, recently submitted their most recent environmental report to the state government. The report includes cautionary yet practical warnings about the decreasing well-being of certain species, such as the ringtail possum, which were thought to be thriving when the region was designated as a protected area in 1988.
According to the report, invasive species and diseases, as well as the effects of climate change, pose a harmful and sneaky threat to the biodiversity of the area, putting its integrity at risk.
Join Guardian Australia’s complimentary email newsletters in the morning and afternoon to receive a roundup of news updates every day.
Several species, such as rainforest frogs, ringtail possums, high-altitude birds, and myrtle plants, were discovered to be present at the time of the world heritage listing. However, they are now facing considerable challenges due to various threats that have built up over time.
Stephen Williams, an ecologist who specializes in rainforests and also serves as the director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, reported that his research revealed a 25% rise in the quantity of endangered vertebrate species listed in the region over the past three years.
Williams stated that the previously forecasted decreases in certain species are now being witnessed in real time.
Williams stated that the main focus is on climate, and that it largely revolves around climate.
“The wet tropics, designated as a world heritage site, is currently in a satisfactory state. However, there is a notable rise in the number of species that are already on the endangered list or are at risk of being added to it.”
“This phenomenon is occurring at a rapid pace and it often takes several years for a species to be recognized as endangered. Governments typically prioritize funding and discussions for officially listed species.”
“Regardless of the statistic we use, the issue is actually twice as severe. There are more species declining than are currently listed.”
According to Williams, the current circumstances have put the wet tropics at a significant danger of losing the very features that led to its designation as a world heritage site for preservation.
A significant number of animals residing in the humid tropics have experienced negative impacts from intense heatwaves and periods of drought. In November 2018, a two-day heatwave resulted in the death of over 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, comprising approximately 30% of the total population.
Williams stated that the rise in average temperature over time, rather than brief periods of extreme weather, was having a negative impact on the biodiversity of species inhabiting cooler upland areas such as the ringtail possum, certain frogs, and birds.
Williams noted that some of these are exhibiting signs of a gradual decrease in rising temperature.
“It is difficult to envision any further steps that can be taken beyond implementing measures to address climate change for these specific species.”
The biodiversity of rainforests is facing a growing danger from bushfires. While the moist environment of the rainforest was once thought to act as a barrier against fires, in recent times, they have inflicted significant harm.
According to the report, hotter temperatures in the wet tropics region will result in increased frequency and intensity of fires.
There is limited research on the ability of the local rainforest species to recover from fire damage.
The management authority stated that there is still a limited opportunity to save endangered species by implementing innovative programs and forming partnerships.
Christine Grant, a woman from the Eastern Kuku Yalanji community and chairperson of the authority, stated that there is no quick or easy solution.
Grant stated that the most effective approach for safeguarding endangered species is to engage in extensive planning, reconsider our financial resources, and give priority to large-scale restoration efforts that address climate change by improving fire management and addressing other hazards like invasive species.
The inclusion of the wet tropics on the world heritage list has helped to safeguard species. However, the area is at risk from invasive pests, diseases, and more frequent and severe natural disasters, such as fires. This poses a threat to this globally important region.