Aim To assess whether eight factors thought to be involved in the extinction process can explain the pattern of recent decline in Australia's mammal fauna.
Methods We compiled the first comprehensive lists of mammal species extant at the time of European settlement in each of Australia's 76 mainland regions, and assigned a current conservation status to each species in each region to derive an index of faunal attrition. We then sought to explain the observed region-to-region variation in attrition (the dependent variable) by building a series of models using variables representing the eight factors.
Results A strong geographically based pattern of attrition emerged, with faunal losses being greatest in arid regions and least in areas of high rainfall. The Akaike information criterion showed support for one model that explained 93% of the region-to-region variation in attrition. Its six variables all made independent contributions towards explaining the observed variation. Two were environmental variables, namely mean annual rainfall (a surrogate for regional productivity) and environmental change (a measure of post-European disturbance). The other four were faunal variables, namely phylogenetic similarity, body-weight distribution, area (as a surrogate for extent of occurrence), and proportion of species that usually shelter on the ground (rather than in rock piles, burrows or trees).
Main conclusions In combination with historical evidence, the analysis provides an explicit basis for setting priorities among regions and species. It also shows that the long-term recovery of populations of many species of Australian mammals will require introduced predator suppression as well as extensive habitat management that includes controlling feral herbivores. Specifically, habitat management should restore aspects of productivity relevant to the types of species at risk and ensure the continual availability of suitable refuges from physiological stressors.