Indigenous knowledge reveals widespread mammal decline in northern Australia, 14 February 2013

CALIFORNIA, USA: Over the course of four years, a team of Australian researchers journeyed through the remote landscapes of Northern Australia to tap a vanishing resource: the wealth of knowledge carried by the indigenous inhabitants. Their study, published in January 2013 in Biological Conservation concludes that there have been major declines in native Northern Australian mammals, and also suggests a relationship between the decline of Indigenous knowledge and the decline of biodiversity.

Authored by M.R. Ziembicki, J.C.Z. Woinarski and B. Mackey, the study aimed to assess the extent and timing of change in mammal status across a broad area of northern Australia (the monsoonal tropics of the Northern Territory). Indigenous information about terrestrial native mammal fauna (excluding bats) was compiled from a large series of interviews conducted across indigenous communities. Declines were reported as extending from the earliest memory of indigenous participants, but the rate of decline has increased recently. These changes were reported across all five regions within the broad study area and were greater for “critical weight range” species than for other species. Indigenous participants suggested several factors were associated with the changing status of species. The study’s results reveal a pattern of widespread decline in the mammal fauna of the monsoonal tropics of northern Australia, thereby corroborating the conclusions of recent more local wildlife monitoring studies. The study also demonstrated the value and capability of indigenous ecological knowledge to complement and corroborate more intensive and local scientific studies.

Read the Mongabay article … Read the research article in Biological Conservation