Skink, cockatoo added to Australia’s official threatened species list

Two new species have been added to Australia’s list of threatened animals.

The mountain skink (Liopholis montana) has been listed as endangered, while the south-eastern glossy black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami lathami) has been listed as vulnerable.

It follows the listing or changes to reflect the worsening status of 16 other threatened species under Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act this year.

Both species’ habitats were badly damaged in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020, with wildfires cited among the threats to the species.

Mountain skinks and South-eastern glossy black cockatoos hit hard by shared threats

The mountain skink is a solidly-built species which typically grows to a maximum size of around 11 centimetres and lives across the subalpine and mountain regions of Australia’s eastern states, stretching from the Australian Capital Territory through Kosciuszko National Park towards Wombat State Forest and the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne.

Ecological research suggests that the Australian Alps hold the highest number of threatened squamates – an order of reptiles that includes skinks, snakes and lizards – on the continent. Logging and habitat clearing, invasive predators and the increasing threats of climate-related hazards like bushfires are all considered major threats to the species’ survival.

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The known range of the mountain skink / Credit: Commonwealth of Australia [CC-BY]

The south-eastern glossy black cockatoo has similarly been impacted by recent fire events in its habitat. Analysis by ornithological conservation organisation BirdLife Australia found 38% of the species’ habitat was impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.

It’s the eighth cockatoo to be added to the list, and the second this year, following the gang-gang cockatoo’s addition as an endangered species, also following devastation in the fires.  

Their range is concentrated along Australia’s east coast from north of Brisbane to the Dandenong Ranges. Loss, fragmentation and degradation of this habitat presents the primary high-impact threats to this species, including through increasing climate events like droughts, heatwaves and bushfires.

What you need to know

  • Australia has added the mountain skink and south-eastern glossy black cockatoo to its list of threatened species.
  • 16 animals, four plants, and five ecological communities have been added this year.
  • The south-eastern glossy black cockatoo is one of four subspecies of genus Calyptorhynchus (the black cockatoos) listed as either endangered or vulnerable.
  • Five of the 12 skinks of genus Liopholis – including the mountain skink – are listed as either endangered or vulnerable

Professor Brendan Wintle, a conservation ecologist who has previously headed-up the Australian government’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub, says many species in the range of the Black Summer fireground are dealing with a “cocktail of threats” putting their survival at risk.

“With these species there is a combination of factors affecting them,” Wintle told Cosmos.

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The known range of the south-eastern glossy black cockatoo / Credit: Commonwealth of Australia [CC-BY]

“Climate change, the increased frequency of large, catastrophic wildfires and any other form of habitat loss and habitat fragmentation – whether that’s timber harvesting, clearing for urban development – any of these things are basically going to take away the homes and food for these species.

“Then of course you also have cats in particular – feral predators.”

Endangered listing doesn’t lead to habitat protection

The addition of a species to the EPBC Act provides a clear scientific focus on its current situation in Australia and includes assessments of populations and threats and should inform strategies to minimise the risk of further decline.

A mountain skink on a rock.
Mountain skink (Liopholis montana) / Credit: Owen Lishmund, inaturalist (CC-BY-NC)

Wintle would like to see further reforms pointing out that, unlike the United States, Australia’s laws don’t require habitat protection for listed species.

“The problem with Australia is that endangered species’ listing actually doesn’t demand the identification and protection of critical habitats, and we have seen animals listed as endangered having large habitat losses approved,” he says.

“We’ve seen that already with the greater glider through the impacts of logging, we’ve seen it with the black throated finch through the impacts of mining.

“Unlike in the US, where listing under the Endangered Species Act mandates critical habitat protection and funding for the recovery of the species, in Australia this is something that we really need to fix about our threatened species legislation.”

Over two thousand ecological communities, plant and animal species are currently listed as threatened under Australia’s EPBC Act.

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