Dbytes #467 (17 March 2021)

Info, news & views for anyone interested in biodiversity conservation and good environmental decision making

“As the developed country that stands to lose the most from inaction, we [Australians] also stand to gain the most from bold climate action.”
Former Wallaby, David Pocock in Game, Set, Match: calling time on climate inaction (Climate Council)

In this issue of Dbytes

1. Environmental ‘Standards’ in name only?
2. Custodians of the globe’s blue carbon assets
3. COVID-19 wasn’t just a disaster for humanity – new research shows nature suffered greatly too
4. Humans control majority of freshwater ebb and flow on Earth
5. Temperature check: Greening Australia’s warming cities
6. Attribution of the Australian bushfire risk to anthropogenic climate change
7. Butterflies on the brink: identifying the Australian butterflies (Lepidoptera) most at risk of extinction


1. ‘Standards’ in name only?
The government’s National Environmental Standards don’t do what you might expect

Last month the federal government introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021 (the Standards and Assurance Bill). The standards should set hard environmental bottom lines, but if this bill goes through, they won’t. They open up a giant back door to ‘trade-off’ decisions, the very antithesis of meeting standards.



2. Custodians of the globe’s blue carbon assets

This report is a first assessment of blue carbon assets across the UNESCO marine World Heritage sites, revealing their outsized role as custodians of globally relevant blue carbon resources, including the largest areas of seagrass and mangroves in the ocean. Despite representing less than 1% of the global ocean area, marine World Heritage sites and their immediate surrounding areas for which data was available comprise at least 21% of the global area of blue carbon ecosystems and 15% of global blue carbon assets. These carbon stores are equivalent to about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Investing in the conservation and restoration of UNESCO marine World Heritage sites offers significant opportunities to mitigate climate change, meet the goals of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by including these assets in Nationally Determined Contributions, and finance conservation, at least in part, through the resulting carbon credits.



3. COVID-19 wasn’t just a disaster for humanity – new research shows nature suffered greatly too

It’s one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. While the human and economic toll have been enormous, new findings show the fallout from the virus also seriously damaged nature. Conservation is often funded by tourism dollars – particularly in developing nations. In many cases, the dramatic tourism downturn brought on by the pandemic meant funds for conservation were cut. Anti-poaching operations and endangered species programs were among those affected.



4. Humans control majority of freshwater ebb and flow on Earth, study finds

Humans have made a remarkable impact on the planet, from clearing forests for agriculture and urbanization to altering the chemistry of the atmosphere with fossil fuels. Now, a new study in the journal Nature reveals for the first time the extent of human impact on the global water cycle.



5. Temperature check: Greening Australia’s warming cities

A report commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation and prepared by Monash University researchers finds that increasing urban vegetation will become essential in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by 2060–2080 to reduce the impacts of serious heatwaves. Summer temperatures are expected to “regularly” exceed 40°C in Melbourne and Brisbane and reach up to 50°C in Sydney. The urban heat island effect will likely “add several degrees on top of this”, the authors caution.

Temperature check: Greening Australia’s warming cities – Australian Conservation Foundation (acf.org.au)

6. Attribution of the Australian bushfire risk to anthropogenic climate change

The study reveals the complexity of the 2019/20 bushfire event, with some but not all drivers showing an imprint of anthropogenic climate change. Finally, the study concludes with a qualitative review of various vulnerability and exposure factors that each play a role, along with the hazard in increasing or decreasing the overall impact of the bushfires.



7. Butterflies on the brink: identifying the Australian butterflies (Lepidoptera) most at risk of extinction

The diversity and abundance of native invertebrates is declining globally, which could have significant consequences for ecosystem functioning. Declines are likely to be at least as severe as those observed for vertebrates, although often are difficult to quantify due to a lack of historic baseline data and limited monitoring effort. The Lepidoptera are well studied in Australia compared with other invertebrates, so we know that some species are imperilled or declining. Despite this, few butterfly taxa are explicitly listed for protection by legislation. Here we aim to identify the butterfly taxa that would most benefit from listing by determining the Australian butterflies at most immediate risk of extinction. We also identify the research and management actions needed to retain them. For 26 taxa identified by experts and various conservation schedules, we used structured expert elicitation to estimate the probability of extinction within 20 years (i.e. by 2040) and to identify key threatening processes, priority research and management needs. Collation and analysis of expert opinion indicated that one taxon, the laced fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius inconstans), is particularly imperilled, and that four taxa (Jalmenus eubulusJalmenus aridusHypochrysops piceatus and Oreisplanus munionga larana) have a moderate–high (>30%) risk of extinction by 2040. Mapped distributions of the 26 butterflies revealed that most are endemic to a single state or territory, and that many occupy narrow ranges. Inappropriate fire regimes, habitat loss and fragmentation (through agricultural practices), invasive species (mostly through habitat degradation caused by weeds and rabbits) and climate change were the most prevalent threats affecting the taxa considered. Increased resourcing and management intervention will be required to prevent these extinctions. We provide specific recommendations for averting such losses.

Butterflies on the brink: identifying the Australian butterflies (Lepidoptera) most at risk of extinction – Geyle – – Austral Entomology – Wiley Online Library


About Dbytes

Dbytes is a weekly eNewsletter presenting news and views on biodiversity conservation and environmental decision science. ‘D’ stands for ‘Decision’ and refers to all the ingredients that go into good, fair and just decision-making in relation to the environment.

From 2007-2018 Dbytes was supported by a variety of research networks and primarily the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). From 2019 Dbytes is being produced by David Salt (Ywords).

If you have any contributions to Dbytes (ie, opportunities and resources that you think might think be of value to other Dbyte readers) please send them to David.Salt@anu.edu.au. Please keep them short and provide a link for more info.

Anyone is welcome to receive Dbytes. If you would like to receive it, send me an email and I’ll add you to the list.


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