• Open Access

The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response

Authors

  • John C. Z. Woinarski,

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
    2. School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
    3. North Australian Biodiversity Hub, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • Sarah Legge,

    1. North Australian Biodiversity Hub, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
    2. Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, PMB 925 Derby, Western Australia 6728, Australia
    3. Research School of Biology, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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  • James A. Fitzsimons,

    1. The Nature Conservancy, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia
    2. School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia
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  • Barry J. Traill,

    1. Pew Environment Group, 2 Treehaven Way, Maleny, Queensland 4552, Australia
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  • Andrew A. Burbidge,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946, Australia
    2. Current address: 87 Rosedale Street, Floreat, Western Australia 6014, Australia
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  • Alaric Fisher,

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
    2. North Australian Biodiversity Hub, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • Ron S. C. Firth,

    1. School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
    2. ENV. Australia Pty Ltd, PO Box 7480, Cloisters Square Perth, Western Australia 6850, Australia
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  • Iain J. Gordon,

    1. The James Hutton Institute, Mylnefield, Ivergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, UK
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  • Anthony D. Griffiths,

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
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  • Christopher N. Johnson,

    1. School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 5, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
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  • Norm L. McKenzie,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946, Australia
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  • Carol Palmer,

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
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  • Ian Radford,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 942, Kununurra Western Australia 6743, Australia
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  • Brooke Rankmore,

    1. School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • Euan G. Ritchie,

    1. School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia
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  • Simon Ward,

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
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  • Mark Ziembicki

    1. Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia
    2. School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Queensland, 4870, Australia
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  • Editor
    Corey Bradshaw

Correspondence
John C. Z. Woinarski, Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory 0831, Australia. Tel: +61 (0)8 89955001; fax: +61 (0)8 89955099. Email: john.woinarski@nt.gov.au

Abstract

This article provides a context to, attempts an explanation for, and proposes a response to the recent demonstration of rapid and severe decline of the native mammal fauna of Kakadu National Park. This decline is consistent with, but might be more accentuated than, declines reported elsewhere in northern Australia; however, such a comparison is constrained by the sparse information base across this region. Disconcertingly, the decline has similarities with the earlier phase of mammal extinctions that occurred elsewhere in Australia. We considered four proximate factors (individually or interactively) that might be driving the observed decline: habitat change, predation (by feral cats), poisoning (by invading cane toads), and novel disease. No single factor readily explains the current decline. The current rapid decline of mammals in Kakadu National Park and northern Australia suggests that the fate of biodiversity globally might be even bleaker than evident in recent reviews, and that the establishment of conservation reserves alone is insufficient to maintain biodiversity. This latter conclusion is not new; but the results reported here further stress the need to manage reserves far more intensively, purposefully, and effectively, and to audit regularly their biodiversity conservation performance.

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