Sadly, Australia leads the way in mammal extinctions worldwide. Alarmingly, the relatively-unmodified tropical savannas across northern Australia are facing decline of their mammals; both diversity and abundance. Some work has been done on this recently, and contenders for the drivers of this decline include modified fire regimes, grazing, cats & foxes, climate change, disease and cane toads. But patchy baseline data, spread unevenly over a sparse area, makes it difficult to investigate patterns in this decline.
Today, JCU research centre TESS are holding a symposium to investigate the role in which disease could be contributing to the decline in mammals in northern Australia. Hosted by Noel Preece and Sandra Abell, renown speakers brought to JCU for the workshop include Peter Daszak, from EcoHealth Alliance; Diana Fisher (University of Queensland), and Mike Lawes (Charles Darwin University).
Greater emphasis on finding the cause of decline – and not ruling out something that we may not be able to see, like disease – is important if we are able to stem this decline. Our tropical savannas in Australia are heralded as one of the largest intact landscapes in the world. But subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in land management, particularly fire and grazing, are likely to be drivers in the decline of the mammals and the granivorous birds. More research into this and the other potential drivers is required.