Platypus on the ‘brink of extinction’
One of Australia's most-loved mammals, the platypus, is being pushed towards the "brink of extinction" by climate threats and habitat destruction, researchers say.
Platypus numbers may have halved or more since Europeans arrived in Australia, according to a study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.
The research predicts that local extinctions may have occurred across 40 per cent of the species' range due to dam building, land clearing and other disruptions.
Under current climate and threats, the researchers predicted platypus numbers would decline between 47 per cent and 66 per cent over 50 years.
When adjusted for projected climate change, the research found that increased drought frequencies and duration were predicted to further reduce platypus populations by between 51 and 73 per cent.
"These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas," lead author and researcher at the University of NSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science, Gilad Bino, told The Age.
The trajectory could place the mammal on the "brink of extinction", he said.
Even before Australia's devastating bushfire season - which have killed millions of the nation's wildlife - the platypus population was suffering as a result of the intensifying drought and heatwave.
Disruption of Murray Darling and Great Dividing Range habitats means "the consequences are grim for the platypus", said director of the UNSW centre and another of the study's authors, Richard Kingsford.
"This is impacting their ability to survive during these extended dry periods and increased demand for water.
"If we lost the platypus from Australian rivers, you would say, 'What sort of government policies or care allow that to happen?'" Prof Kingsford said.
"What sort of nonchalance and disregard for one of the world's most important species has allowed this to happen?"
A NSW environment spokeswoman told the publication that the Government "recognises that a range of factors, exacerbated by the current prolonged drought conditions, may be placing the long-term viability of platypus populations at risk".
The researchers said there was an "urgent need" to implement national conservation efforts for the platypus by increasing surveys, tracking trends, mitigating threats and improving management of their habitat in rivers.
The study was the first nationwide attempt to establish a so-called metapopulation model for the platypus.