Platypus habitat ‘has shrunk by 22%’

a close up of an animal: Platypus numbers are on the decline, scientists warn

© Reuters
Platypus numbers are on the decline, scientists warn

The habitat of the platypus has shrunk by almost a quarter in just three decades, researchers have warned.

An egg-laying mammal known for its duck-like bill, the platypus is found in river systems in eastern Australia.

But human intervention in those waterways, bad droughts and introduced predators – among other things – have ravaged its habitats, scientists say.

The researchers and conservation groups have called for Australia to classify the species as nationally threatened.

The habitat loss amounted to 22% – or about 200,000 sq km (77,000 sq miles) – since 1990, according to the team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

“Protecting the platypus and the rivers it relies on must be a national priority for one of the world’s most iconic animals,” said lead author Professor Richard Kingsford.

“There is a real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning, if rivers keep degrading with droughts and dams.”

New South Wales had seen a 32% drop in platypus observations within the past 30 years, followed by Queensland (27%) and Victoria (7%), the research said. In some areas near Melbourne, however, the rate was as high as 65%.

The platypus is listed as “near threatened” on The Red List by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but conservationists are hoping to force more action at federal and state levels in Australia.

a bird swimming in water: Platypuses are nocturnal, egg-laying mammals

© Getty Images
Platypuses are nocturnal, egg-laying mammals

Earlier this month, Victoria’s scientific advisory panel recommended that the state officially list the species as vulnerable.

Both the UNSW research and Victorian panel warned that climate change would only exacerbate threats to the species, especially from drought.

The office of Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government had already committed about A$1m ($731,000; £550,000) to safeguarding platypus ecosystems.

The call to list it as a threatened species would be considered, a representative told the newspaper.

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Australia’s platypus habitat has shrunk 22% in 30 years, report says

The amount of platypus habitat in Australia has shrunk by 22% in 30 years and the animal should now be listed as a nationally threatened species, according to new research.

a person holding a cat: Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuters

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Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuters

Scientists from the University of New South Wales, along with three of Australia’s largest environmental organisations – the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF-Australia and Humane Society International Australia – have jointly nominated the platypus for an official listing as vulnerable under national environmental laws.

Call for platypus to be listed as vulnerable, as report finds mammal’s habitat has shrunk by almost three times the size of Tasmania since 1990.

© Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
Call for platypus to be listed as vulnerable, as report finds mammal’s habitat has shrunk by almost three times the size of Tasmania since 1990.

The group has also nominated the platypus for the same status under NSW laws after research found severe declines in platypus records in that state.

Related: NSW ‘koala war’ flares as Gladys Berejiklian sacks parliamentary secretary for crossing floor

The platypus is an elusive animal and a lack of long-term monitoring studies has made it difficult to quantify declines in populations.

The scientists compiled all available data and records of the platypus to examine changes in both its distribution and occurrence, concluding that it meets the criteria for a vulnerable listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Their research found that since 1990, the amount of platypus habitat in Australia had declined by 199,919 square kilometres – or 22.6% – which is an area almost three times the size of Tasmania.

The sharpest declines by state were in NSW and Queensland, which respectively recorded a 32% and a 27% reduction in the areas occupied by platypuses.

“In terms of the biggest causes for these declines, the big concern is they haven’t really ceased and appear to be ongoing and even getting worse,” said Tahneal Hawke, an ecologist at the UNSW and one of the lead researchers.

“We’re expecting the declines will continue.”

The biggest threats to the platypus are land-clearing, regulation of rivers and drought.

Related: Australia’s environment laws: are they about to get even weaker?

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Hawke said in addition to listing the species as vulnerable, governments needed to address these threats and invest in actions for species recovery.

In the Murray-Darling Basin, the study found a 30.6% decline in platypus records over the past 30 years. In some urban catchments near Melbourne, the declines were as high as 65%.

In Victoria, the state’s scientific advisory panel recently recommended an official listing of vulnerable for the platypus and the state government will decide within the next two months whether to endorse that listing.

“Protecting the platypus and the rivers it relies on must be a national priority for one of the world’s most iconic animals,” said Richard Kingsford, another lead author of the report and the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the UNSW.

“There is a real concern that platypus populations

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The HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) habitat in Hawaii.  (Image credit: HI-SEAS)

A group of six researchers will embark on a mission to “Mars” on Monday (Nov. 2). The Martian crew will include artists, scientists and … me!

The crew will spend two-weeks traveling to a simulated Mars habitat. The mission, known as Sensoria M2, will take place at the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) habitat on the side of the volcano Mauna Loa. All crew members will have completed a two-week quarantine and COVID-19 tests prior to flying to the habitat to reduce risk as Sensoria M2 is taking place during the coronavirus pandemic. 

This mission will be part of the Sensoria program. Sensoria aims to support underrepresented groups in the space sector to “close existing gaps in our ability to support the next generation of crewed missions,” the program’s website states

Live updates: Our mission to ‘Mars’ at the HI-SEAS habitat
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“All of our missions will be female-led and female-majority. We, of course, will welcome with open arms our male colleagues, but we believe that women need to be placed at the center of our shared vision for space exploration, that women need to be given a platform for professional development, opportunities for research and training,” bioengineer J.J. Hastings, who serves as the CEO of Analogs LLC, a company that backs the Sensoria program, told about the program before its inaugural mission in January 2020. 

Hastings will serve as capcom (capsule communicator) for the mission alongside geoscientist Sian Proctor, said about the Sensoria program. 

Sensoria M2 is what is known as an “analog mission,” or a mission conducted on Earth that simulates a mission in space. At HI-SEAS, researchers complete both analog lunar and Mars missions, and this specific mission will mimic what it would be like to live and work on the Red Planet. 

This means that I and the other crew members will not leave the solar-powered habitat unless in a secured spacesuit on an EVA (extravehicular activity, also known as a spacewalk). We will only eat shelf-stable foods and rely entirely on the habitat’s solar power, and the team’s email communication — the only direct contact with the outside world — will be delayed by 40 minutes. These are just a few of the ways that this analog mission will make a habitat on Earth as realistic as possible.

The mission will span from Nov. 2 to Nov. 16, which means that we will be on “Mars” both for the U.S. Presidential election (so we will all vote early before leaving for “Mars”) and for SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronaut launch for NASA, which is scheduled for Nov. 14

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