Koala (Photo: JJ Harrison)The bushfires currently raging in southeastern Australia have already made the 2019–20 season one of the worst in living memory. So far, an area of around 6.3 million hectares (63,000 square kilometres or 24,000 square miles) has been burned, more than 2500 buildings have been destroyed and 25 people have been killed. Experts from the University of Sydney say that an estimated 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been affected since September. Bushfires have always been part of the Australian landscape, but in normal circumstances extensive areas have been left unburned, helping animals to survive. There are concerns that as a result of the severe conditions of the current season, entire species of animals may have been wiped out.
Bushfire in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Dec 2019Millions of animals have been killed in the fires. Some of the worst affected are species that cannot fly or run away, such as koalas and greater gliders. But the impact on Australia's wildlife in the longer term is more serious even than these individual deaths. The habitat of many endangered animals has been devastated, leading to fears that even if the animals somehow survive the blaze, they may not be able to find food—for example, fruit, leaves or small invertebrates—in the burned landscape. Wombats and other ground-dwelling mammals may survive in underground burrows (soil is a very good heat insulator). But smaller species may emerge to find an open landscape with nowhere to hide from predators, such as foxes and feral cats (domestic cats that live in the wild).
Southern brown bandicoot (jjron)
On Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, the habitat of the endangered southern brown bandicoot has been obliterated by fire. The island’s rare dunnart, a tiny mouse-like marsupial, has also been badly affected. The critically endangered long-footed potoroo was restricted almost entirely to East Gippsland, Victoria, which has been devastated by this year’s fires. In southern Queensland, much of the range of the silver-headed antechinus has been wiped out. As the fires move into Kosciuszko National Park, there is concern about the endangered mountain pygmy possum.
Prospect Hill Pine Forest after a bushfire, Jan 2020
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