On National Threatened Species Day in 2023, the Australian Government made an official declaration of the endangered status of the Empodisma peatlands located in southwestern Australia. This significant decision came about due to the dedicated efforts of environmental scientists from Edith Cowan University (ECU), who had been conducting research for three years and receiving support from various organizations advocating for the preservation of these invaluable wetlands.
Dr. Dave Blake, a Senior Lecturer at ECU, emphasized the profound impact of this endangered listing. He stated, “This designation carries extensive implications, highlighting the urgency and significance of safeguarding this remarkable ecological community.”
The Empodisma peatlands in Western Australia serve as vital habitats for various wildlife, including the Sunset Frog, as well as numerous iconic native plant species such as the Albany Pitcher plant. These wetlands consist of seasonally waterlogged freshwater areas based on peat and are found in regions spanning from Cape Naturaliste to Albany, encompassing the southern subregion of the Jarrah Forest Bioregion, as well as the high rainfall areas of the Fitzgerald, Northern Jarrah Forest, and Perth subregions where suitable conditions exist.
Dr. Blake emphasized the crucial role these peatlands play in the natural environment, including providing habitats for flora and fauna, regulating water quality, and storing carbon. Additionally, they hold cultural and spiritual significance for Traditional Owners.
ECU’s research has revealed that these peatlands face various threats, including changing climate patterns, heightened vulnerability to wildfires, and degradation caused by feral animals. Altered rainfall patterns and rising temperatures disrupt the hydrological systems that maintain these peat ecosystems, making them more susceptible to fires, which in turn make them accessible to feral pigs, further impacting the local ecosystem. Ultimately, these peatlands transition from being carbon sinks to significant sources of carbon emissions.
The successful designation of these peatlands as endangered was achieved through the collaborative efforts of ECU, in partnership with key organizations and individuals such as the Walpole Nornalup National Parks Association, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, and the Commonwealth Department for Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water, along with the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
In a proactive step toward preservation, ECU is engaged in a five-year collaborative research project known as “Protecting Peatland Ecosystems and Addressing Threats in Southwest Australia (PEAT),” co-led by the University of Western Australia. This initiative brings together 21 interdisciplinary scientists working in concert with guidance from Indigenous elders to devise effective strategies for protecting these precious natural habitats.
Dr. Blake emphasized the importance of this endangered listing and the PEAT project in collecting the necessary data to inform policy decisions and conservation efforts. He also stressed that the peatland ecosystems, once impacted by fire in the era of climate change, are unlikely to recover and could be lost forever. It is evident that immediate action is imperative to preserve this critical ecological system for future generations.
“Officially endangered: Critical environmental research saving Western Australia’s precious peatlands” (2023, September 15)
Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2023-09-endangered-critical-environmental-western-australia.html
Source: Edith Cowan University