Australia’s devastating drought is having a critical impact on the iconic platypus, a globally unique mammal, with increasing reports of rivers drying up and platypuses becoming stranded.
Platypuses 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.
A new study examined the potentially devastating combination of threats to platypus populations, including water resource development, land clearing, climate change and increasingly severe periods of drought.
Lead author Dr. Gilad Bino said action must be taken now to prevent the platypus from disappearing from our waterways.
The study 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.
“These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas,” Bino added.
But the platypus remains unlisted in most jurisdictions in Australia — except South Australia, where it is endangered.
“These include dams that stop their movements, agriculture which can destroy their burrows, fishing gear and yabby traps, which can drown, them and invasive foxes which can kill them,” professor Kingsford said.
Bino said the researchers’ paper added to the increasing body of evidence which showed that the platypus, like many other native Australian species, was on the path to extinction.
“There is an urgent need to implement national conservation efforts for this unique mammal and other species by increasing monitoring, tracking trends, mitigating threats, and protecting and improving management of freshwater habitats,” Bino said.