Clearing 1 ha in south-east Qld can affect up to 180 bird species, warn UQ scientists

SCIENTISTS have found that each hectare of south-east Queensland or north Queensland's Wet Tropics that are cleared can affect up to 180 different bird species.

IN STRIFE: An eastern yellow robin. More than 60 per cent of the birds of south-east Australia have lost more than half of their habitat to clearing. Photo: Graham Winterflood.

IN STRIFE: An eastern yellow robin. More than 60 per cent of the birds of south-east Australia have lost more than half of their habitat to clearing. Photo: Graham Winterflood.

Clearing for development and farming has had a devastating impact on birds, especially in south-eastern Australia.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, featuring University of Queensland scientists, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almost two-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales.

Lead researcher Jeremy Simmonds said the team looked at threatened and non-threatened birds.

"While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species, like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are crucially important," Dr Simmonds said.

"Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollination and their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health of ecosystems.

"Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important to understand how big the problem of habitat removal is. Our research developed a method to do this, called the Loss Index.

PRESSURE: Where the most species are losing habitat. This map shows the number of bird species affected by habitat loss in any region. Photo: Conservation Biology.

PRESSURE: Where the most species are losing habitat. This map shows the number of bird species affected by habitat loss in any region. Photo: Conservation Biology.

"We looked at how the amount of habitat available for each of Australia's 447 different land bird species had changed since 1750.

"In places like Queensland's south-east and the Wet Tropics, each hectare of forest cleared can affect up to 180 different native bird species."

Dr Simmonds said more than half of the 262 native birds in south-east Australia had only a fraction of their natural habitat remaining.

He said that northern Australia and the arid zone had the least habitat loss, as there had been much less vegetation clearing.

"We also looked at different bird groups and found that Australia's parrot species are more impacted by habitat loss, compared with birds of prey, like eagles and owls."

Dr Simmonds said the index provided a tool for conservation managers and planners to better understand how habitat loss affects all birds, and not just the endangered ones.

"It helps to show that every hectare of native vegetation that is removed chips away at remaining habitat for dozens and sometimes hundreds of species, including common species which typically do not receive conservation attention," he said.

"The quality of the remaining habitat is often reduced, due to weeds, grazing and changed fire patterns, such as more and hotter fires, and this can further reduce the number and type of birds that an area can support."

This story South-east Qld habitat loss knocking birds for six first appeared on Redland City Bulletin.