Endangered, Threatened or Rare?
Sometimes a particular species of orchid is said to be rare or endangered, for instance Thelymitra circumsepta* is listed as endangered in South Australia but has no listing federally whilst the endemic Prasophyllym murfetii* is listed as Critically Endangered federally but only Endangered in South Australia.
What do these listings mean and why are they different for the same species?
What are the Conservation Categories?
Conservation listing by governments gives species a legal status, which can then be used to determine the type of consideration to be given to individual species in decision-making processes for species conservation.
In South Australia, the two main legislations affecting native orchids are the state National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW) and the national Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPB). There is also the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List which is used for international treaties. Each has their own set of categories resulting in terms with slightly different meanings.
The IUCN classification is quite detailed but in summary the conservation status used are
- Extinct – not seen for fifty years or despite intensive searching not seen at a previously known site
- Extinct in the Wild – no natural populations exist; only surviving in cultivation
- Critically Endangered – known only from a single non-viable population
- Endangered – in danger of extinction unless the factors causing decline are arrested
- Vulnerable – likely to become endangered if the only large populations is wiped out for whatever reason
- Near Threatened – close to qualifying or likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future
- Least Concern
- Data Deficient
- Not Evaluated
The Australian Federal government, under Section 179 of the EPBC Act, has six categories
- Extinct – no reasonable doubt that the species has died out
- Extinct in the Wild – no natural population existing, surviving in cultivation
- Critically Endangered – faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future
- Endangered – faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future
- Vulnerable – faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term future
- Conservation Dependent – if the cessation of a specific conservation program ceased the species could become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered
South Australia uses three categories based on the categories from the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.
- Endangered (Schedule 7) – includes Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild and Extinct
- Vulnerable (Schedule 8)
- Rare (Schedule 9) – this is a South Australian term not recognised elsewhere but the criteria are consistent with the IUCN Near Threatened category and refers to uncommon species that are naturally limited in location or are in decline. Hence it is possible for a species to be common interstate but threatened in South Australia, for example Anzybas unguiculatus* is rated rare.
Another term that is frequently used is Threatened. For the IUCN Threatened encompasses the three categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. It means that a species rated as threatened with extinction under these three categories may have different degrees of threat – note the adjectives in the IUCN definitions above. This serves as a guideline for its usage in South Australia. It should also be noted that Threatened and Rare are not interchangeable but a species rated Rare may be threatened by outside influences.
There is another level of conservation which is the regional status. This level does not have any legal standing but it is helpful in managing the species. The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are used to assign a regional conservation status. This is helpful in managing species at this level.
Why does a species have different Conservation Categories?
Looking through Part Two of South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011, it is not uncommon to find a species with two different conservation statuses. It is not surprising when they have the same status eg Arachnorchis behrii* is rated Endangered both state and nationally but why are the others different? Some of this is due to the different number of categories – six federally but only three at the state level so Diplodium bryophilum* is nationally Critically Endangered but only Endangered in South Australia as there is no critically Endangered category. Others have a state status but no national status, for example the endemic Diuris brevifolia* is rated Endangered. Curiously there are no endemic species with the combination of a national status but no state status, although there are five non-endemic species found in South Australia that do have this combination.
This comes about because there are two different bodies determining the statuses through two very different processes.
Nationally under the EPBC Act any individual can nominate a species which is assessed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, put out for public comment, changes adjusted as necessary and then the recommendations are passed onto the Minister who approves or rejects the nomination.
In South Australia, DEWNR (Department Environment Water and Natural Resources) initiates the process by asking the experts, compiling data, holding workshops with the experts. A report is written for the National Parks and Wildlife Council outlining the changes under the NPW Threatened Species Schedules. Once the changes are approved, it is sent to the Minister for approval before being released for public comment. After any necessary adjustments the report is then sent to the South Australian Parliamentary Cabinet for final approval.
Both processes check the species under consideration against the IUCN criteria.
How many South Australian orchids are under threat?
On 22nd July 2014, Doug Bickerton presented a talk at the Native Orchid Society on the conservation status of South Australian orchids. The comparison between the State and Federal listings was as follows:
Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the NPW Act (State)
- 77 species Endangered
- 33 species Vulnerable
- 32 species Rare
A total of 142 species or 49% of all South Australian orchids are recognised to be under threat.
Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the EPBC Act (Federal)
- 4 Critically Endangered
- 22 Endangered
- 19 Vulnerable
A total of 45 species for the State have a Federal government legal conservation status.
The fact that one authority recognises a species and the other authority does not doesn’t mitigate against the seriousness of the threat to that species. The fact that a species does not have a conservation status from either authority does not mean that it is not under threat. It could still be in danger of extinction.
Currently in South Australian there is a State-wide assessment underway and the results will be published in 2016.
This article was inspired and is based upon notes taken from a talk given by Doug Bickerton in 2014 at the Native Orchid Society of South Australia. I would like to thank Thelma Bridle, Conservation Officer, Native Orchid Society of South Australia, for her help.
*Based on information found in South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011
South Australia’s Native Orchids Bates 2011
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species#categories accessed 13th November 2015
IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA Version 3.1 Second edition Prepared by the IUCN Species Survival Commission As approved by the 51st meeting of the IUCN Council Gland, Switzerland 9 February 2000