This section provides an assessment of biodiversity in the ACT, including threatened and important species, conservation of ecosystems and species, native vegetation, and invasive plants and animals.
52 species and 3 ecological communities are listed as threatened in the ACT
141,000 hectares have conservation status in the ACT, protecting 60% of the total ACT area
70% of woodland, grassland and open forest communities are outside conservation areas
Chronic degradation of habitat condition, mainly in fragmented landscapes, is a significant problem in the ACT.
Biodiversity is the variety of life. This can include the diversity of genes within a species, the diversity of species within a landscape and the diversity of ecosystems across landscapes. It can also include the diversity of ecological processes that underpin the functioning of ecosystems such as seed dispersal, pollination and nutrient cycling.
Healthy biodiversity is essential to the natural world and fundamental to human life. The complex and dynamic interactions between plants, animals, microorganisms and soil, water and air underpin the health of the ecosystems. Whilst biodiversity is dependent on good ecosystem health, biodiversity itself plays a pivotal role in maintaining ecosystems. Biodiversity loss or decline can have significant consequences for natural processes, decrease the availability of habitat, and impact on predator–prey relationships. In severe cases, biodiversity loss can lead to significant changes in ecosystems and the functions they provide.
Biodiversity may also make ecosystems more resilient to pressures such as climate change and fire. A diversity of species and ecological processes can help ecosystems to maintain their core functions in the face of environmental change.
Because terrestrial ecosystems are intimately connected to aquatic ecosystems, their degradation has consequences for the condition of the ACT’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Healthy ecosystems, biodiversity and land provide a range of benefits to human wellbeing, including climate regulation, clean air and water, nutrient cycling, pollination, control of pests, carbon sequestration, and the supply of foods and fibres. It is important to maintain and, where necessary, improve the health of ecosystems to ensure the continued availability of the services they provide.
Pressures on biodiversity
The main pressures on biodiversity in the ACT are land use change (particularly greenfield development), climate change, invasive plants and animals, vegetation loss, habitat fragmentation and changes to fire regimes. The use of chemicals such as pesticides can also have significant impacts on biodiversity, especially insects.
Climate change is predicted to compound existing pressures on biodiversity. Projections of significant shifts in local climates and increases in drought, bushfires and storms, will have an impact on biodiversity and natural ecosystems.
Climate change is likely to impact species with limited capacity to migrate, such as those restricted to particular habitats and fragmented landscapes, or those that tolerate only narrow ranges of temperature and rainfall. Species dependent on wetland and mountainous ecosystems have been identified as being at greatest risk. Climate change will exacerbate current environmental pressures; therefore the capacity of natural ecosystems to adapt to climate change will improve if existing threats are addressed.
That the ACT Government:
increase the protection of mature and hollow-bearing trees to maintain critical habitat.
continue monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental offset conservation outcomes and the condition of conservation areas.
increase the representation of the threatened Natural Temperate Grasslands and Yellow Box/ Red Gum Grassy Woodland communities in conservation areas, and improve protection for
all grassland and open forest communities to support threatened species dependent on these ecosystems.
improve knowledge on changes in vegetation extent from land use change and chronic degradation such as dieback.
continue revegetation programs to improve native vegetation extent and connectivity.
improve knowledge on vegetation condition across the ACT.
ensure tolerable fire intervals are considered in prescribed burn decision frameworks.
continue to undertake invasive and pest species management and ongoing control to minimise the impacts of established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks.
improve funding and resourcing for biodiversity management on private land, and provide incentives to rural landholders to protect paddock trees.
improve funding for citizen science groups that significantly contribute to the ACT’s biodiversity knowledge.
As at 2019, there were 7 critically endangered species, 18 endangered species, 26 vulnerable species and one regionally conservation dependent species in the ACT. Over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19), 17 additional species were listed as threatened and 7 species were transferred to critically endangered to align with their Commonwealth status. There are 3 ecological communities classed as endangered, with High Country Bogs and Associated Fens added during the reporting period. In addition, ‘the loss of mature native trees (including hollow-bearing trees) and a lack of recruitment’ was listed as a key threatening process. While changes in listings do not necessarily represent a decline, it is clear that the future of some species and communities in the ACT are threatened without management intervention.
- ? Poor
- ? Fair
- ? Good
Extent: Conservation areas protect 60% of the total ACT area and continue to increase as environmental offsets are added to the Canberra Nature Park network.
Condition: At the time of reporting, it was not possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT. It is also not currently possible to assess whether offsets have ensured no net loss of biodiversity as a result of land development. However, assessments for offsets will likely take many years. Recently initiated monitoring programs will greatly improve condition knowledge in the future.
- ? Poor
- ? Unknown
- ? Good
While many of the ACT’s threatened species and ecological communities are well represented in conservation areas, some flora and fauna species and ecological communities remain poorly represented. This is particularly the case for Natural Temperate Grassland and Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland. For species with large proportions of non-reserved habitat, this is due to their dependence on grassland and woodland habitats, which are not as well protected in conservation areas as other ecosystems (such as forests).
Extent: Due to the large area of conservation reserves, the ACT has extensive areas of native vegetation. Any recent native vegetation losses are estimated to be small and mainly due to changes in land use from urban development. There have also been substantial revegetation efforts to restore habitat and connectivity.
Condition: It was not possible to determine an overall assessment of vegetation condition for the ACT, or changes over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19). Available condition assessments show an increased occurrence of dieback in the ACT, large areas of poor riparian connectivity, much vegetation outside tolerable fire intervals and vegetation dominated by early and young growth stages. However, woodlands, Natural Temperate Grasslands and secondary grasslands have shown an increase in native plant species richness suggesting an improvement in condition.
- ? Poor
- ? Fair
- ? Good
Invasive plants and animals continue to have a significant impact on native species and ecosystem health, and also represent a significant management burden. In areas where invasive species are controlled, outcomes clearly demonstrate the value of well-resourced and ongoing invasive species management to control established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks where possible.
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
Threatened species and ecological communities
As at 2019, a total of 52 species of fauna and flora across all habitats (terrestrial and aquatic) were listed as threatened under the Nature Conservation Act 2014.
Critically endangered species include the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia), Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor), Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), the locally extinct Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Brindabella Midge Orchid (Corunastylis ectopa), and the Kiandra Greenhood (Pterostylis oreophila).
In 2018, ‘the loss of mature native trees (including hollow-bearing trees) and a lack of recruitment’ was listed as a key threatening process in the ACT, adversely affecting 4 vulnerable bird species including the Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii), Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) and Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides).
Conservation: extent of conservation areas
In 2019, 141,000 hectares have conservation status in the ACT, protecting 60% of the total ACT area. This not only represents a significant proportion of the ACT’s natural environment, but is also a much higher proportion than any other jurisdiction in Australia.
Conservation: condition of conservation areas
Representation of threatened fauna in conservation areas
The Broad-toothed Rat, Greater Glider, Northern Corroboree Frog, and Smoky Mouse threatened species have all, or close to all, of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas.
Threatened fauna with less than 50% of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas include the Perunga Grasshopper (47%), Golden Sun Moth (44%), Striped Legless Lizard (33%), and Grassland Earless Dragon (25%). However, these species have a substantial proportion of their habitat on national land (between 20% and 50%) and are subject to management as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Representation of threatened flora in conservation areas
Over half of the known threatened plant sites in the ACT are located in reserves or on other land managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (PCS). An additional 20% occur on national land, which is managed by the National Capital Authority.
Threatened flora species with a substantial proportion of known locations outside ACT conservation areas include Black Gum (Eucalyptus aggregata), Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides), Tarengo Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum petilum), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Small Purple Pea (Swainsona recta), and Murrumbidgee Bossiaea (Bossaiea grayi).
Representation of threatened ecological communities in conservation areas
The least protected vegetation communities in the ACT are woodland, grassland and open forest communities, with under 30% of their extent protected in conservation areas.
Native vegetation: extent
While the loss of native vegetation due to urban development remains of concern, it is unlikely to be the largest source of native vegetation change in the ACT. Chronic degradation of habitat condition, mainly in fragmented landscapes, is a significant problem in the ACT.
Native vegetation: condition
There has been a significant increase in the incidence of dieback in Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi).
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive plants
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive animals
- B1: Threatened species and ecological communities
- B2: Extent and condition of conservation areas
- B3: Representation of threatened species and ecological communities in conservation areas
- B4: Extent and condition of native vegetation
- B5: Distribution and abundance of invasive terrestrial plants and animals