Researchers warn of uncertain future for Australia’s platypus


Share post:

Scientists are worried about the platypus, with a national risk assessment led by UNSW Professor Richard Kingsford suggesting declines of up to 30 percent.

Researchers warn of uncertain future for Australia's platypus
A UNSW-led project has raised concerns about the decline of platypus populations
[Credit: Taronga Zoo: G Anderson]

Mounting evidence that platypus populations are falling has concerned scientists who are nearing the end of a three-year national survey of the iconic species.

The UNSW-led Australian Research Council-funded project has compiled a comprehensive database of the distribution and abundance of the platypus over the last two centuries, combining this with data from systematic capture surveys to conduct a national risk assessment for the species.

“We have great concerns about the future survival of this unique species,” says project leader Professor Richard Kingsford, director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science.

“The national risk assessment has suggested declines of up to 30 percent across its range since European settlement, with localised declines and extinctions increasingly reported.

“Synergistic threats to platypus populations include river regulation and flow disruption, increasing agricultural land use, pollution, and the capture of platypus in fishing and yabby nets, all of which are contributing to these declines across its range,” he says.

UNSW researcher Dr. Gilad Bino has been working to assess differences in population numbers and viability of the species throughout its range, which will enable appropriate conservation actions.

“Our national survey shows great variability in platypus numbers throughout their range in eastern Australia,” says Dr. Bino.

“On degraded rivers, typically below dams and in regions of high agricultural land use, we generally see lower numbers of platypus, likely due to the impacts these threats have on bank erosion and availability of macroinvertebrate food sources,” he says.

The inclusion of historical data has suggested a significant underestimation for platypus declines and has shown that perceptions of healthy numbers have changed over time.

“Previously we’ve had no information on historical platypus abundances and without this baseline reference we become misinformed about what a normal abundance is,” says Tahneal Hawke, a Ph.D. candidate at UNSW.

“This shift in our perception is particularly important for such a cryptic animal. Given sightings are rare, people perceive captures or sightings of just a few platypuses to be indicative of a healthy population, while historical records suggest numbers far exceeded our current observations,” she says.



Related articles

Major deep carbon sink linked to microbes found near volcano chains

Up to about 19 percent more carbon dioxide than previously believed is removed naturally and stored underground between...

Underwater forests threatened by future climate change, new study finds

Researchers at the University of Sydney and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have found that climate change...

Arctic sea ice summertime minimum is fourth lowest on record

According to a NASA analysis of satellite data, the 2015 Arctic sea ice minimum extent is the fourth...

Earth is dimming due to climate change

Warming ocean waters have caused a drop in the brightness of the Earth, according to a new study....

Study sheds new light on how species extinction affects complex ecosystems

Research by the University of Southampton has found that methods used to predict the effect of species extinction...

What drives ecosystems to instability?

Trying to decipher all of the factors that influence the behaviour of complex ecological communities can be a...

Study shows one third of world’s protected areas degraded by human activities

A shocking study in the journal Science by the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and University...

Study finds even the common house sparrow is declining

The European House Sparrow has a story to tell about survival in the modern world. In parts of...