Bush fires pose extinction threat to Australian species warns UON researcher

Date 13.01.2020

A University of Northampton researcher who is currently in Australia fears the bush fires are very likely to have killed off entire species unique to the continent.

Professor of Biodiversity, Jeff Ollerton, is spending two months Down Under taking part in a research project at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney.

He’s worried that the fires, which have claimed 27 human lives, could lead to the extinction of some animal species.

Prof Ollerton said: “The latest figures suggest over a billion larger animals, such as mammals, bird and reptiles, have been killed by the fires.

“But that figure doesn’t take into account that many billions, possibly trillions, of smaller animals, insects, spiders, and so on, will also have perished.

“And that’s where there’s a hidden tragedy, because it’s those small animals – the bees, the pollinators, the herbivores, the decomposers – that are responsible for ensuring these habitats function ecologically, and they also provide food for the larger animals.”

Prof Ollerton added: “On top of that, there’s the plants, many will have been killed or had their leaves and flowers burnt off. For those that have survived it may take many months for those leaves and flowers to regrow, which means that any animals that have survived will have very little to eat and may starve.

“One of the things that makes it such a tragedy, above and beyond the human cost and the death of the animals, is that some species might be driven to extinction. Many of the animals, the birds, reptiles and insects and so on, have very small natural ranges, in some cases only a few hundred square miles. And those species may be completely wiped out by some of these fires.

“We won’t really know what the full effect is until after the fire season has ended, when ecologists can actually go in and start to survey these areas.  Next year, when the rains hopefully start, and things start to flower, bees start to visit those flowers and the insects start to reproduce, then perhaps we’ll get a sense of the full scale of what has happened.

“In the meantime, all we can hope is that more rain falls and the fire fighters can contain some of these large fires.

“At the moment, the future looks very uncertain for a large proportion of the wildlife in some parts of Australia.”