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Analysis of factors implicated in the recent decline of Australia's mammal fauna

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Abstract 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. Location 

Australia. 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.
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Keywords: Australia; conservation biogeography; extinction; faunal contraction; mammals; recovery; threatening processes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo 6946, WA, Australia 2: Western Australian Museum, Locked Bag 49, Welshpool DC 6986, WA, Australia 3: Hydro Tasmania, GPO Box 355, Hobart 7001, Tas. Australia 4: School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney 2006, NSW, Australia 5: Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, PO Box 155, Brisbane 4002, Australia 6: Department of Sustainability and Environment, PO Box 500, East Melbourne 3002, Vic. Australia 7: Department for Environment and Heritage, GPO Box 1047, Adelaide 5001, SA, Australia 8: Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, PO Box 496, Palmerston 0831, NT, Australia

Publication date: 01 April 2007

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