Platypuses (Australia’s marsupial beaver) were once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland and Tasmania, although not a lot is known about their distribution or abundance because of the species’ secretive and nocturnal nature.
Australia’s devastating drought and associated fires are having critical impacts on the iconic platypus, a globally unique mammal, with increasing reports of rivers drying up and platypuses becoming stranded.
“There is an urgent need for a national risk assessment for the platypus to assess its conservation status, evaluate risks and impacts, and prioritise management in order to minimise any risk of extinction,” Dr Gilad Bino of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science said.
Alarmingly, the study Dr Bino was involved in estimated that under current climate conditions and due to land clearing and fragmentation by dams, platypus numbers almost halved, leading to the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species’ range, reflecting ongoing declines since European colonisation.
Under predicted climate change, the losses forecast were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell.
Dr Bino added: “These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas.” Documented declines and local extinctions of the platypus show a species facing considerable risks, while the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently downgraded the platypus’ conservation status to “Near Threatened”.