Focusing on the Landscape Biodiversity in Australia’s National Reserve System

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Focusing on the Landscape
Biodiversity in Australia’s National Reserve System 

Biodiversity in Australia’s National Reserve System — At a glance  1
Australia’s National Reserve System 
The Importance of Species Information 
Our State of Knowledge 
Future Work — Survey and Reservation 
Summary of Data 
Species with adequate data and well represented  
in the National Reserve System
Species with adequate data and under-represented  
in the National Reserve System
Species with inadequate data

1  Chapman, A.D. (2009) Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World: 2
 Edition. Australian Biological
Resources Study, Canberra.

Australia’s National Reserve System (NRS)
consists of over 9,000 protected areas, covering
89.5 million hectares (over 11 per cent of
Australia’s land mass).

Australia is home to 7.8 per cent of the world’s
plant and animal species, with an estimated
566,398 species occurring here.
Only 147,579 of
Australia’s species have been formally described.

This report assesses the state of knowledge of
biodiversity in the National Reserve System based
on 20,146 terrestrial fauna and flora species,
comprising 54 per cent of the known terrestrial
biodiversity of Australia.

Of these species, 33 per cent (6,652 species)
have inadequate data to assess their reservation

Of species with adequate data:

23 per cent (3,123 species) are well 
represented in the NRS

65 per cent (8,692 species) are adequately 
represented in the NRS

12 per cent (1,648 species) are under-
represented in the NRS
Biodiversity in Australia’s 
National Reserve System
At a glance

Australia’s National Reserve 
The National Reserve System is Australia’s
network of protected areas conserving
examples of our natural landscapes
and native plants and animals for future
It is made up of national parks and reserves
managed by all levels of government,
Indigenous lands and protected areas run
by non-profit conservation organisations,
through to ecosystems formally protected
and managed for conservation by farmers
as part of their working properties.
These protected areas, including land and
inland freshwater bodies, are Australia’s
premier investment in biodiversity
conservation. They help sustain the living
systems that provide us all with health,
wealth, food, fuel, water and the vital
services on which our lives depend.
The aim of the National Reserve System
is to develop and effectively manage
a comprehensive, adequate and
representative protected area network. The
expansion of this network is underpinned
by a national scientific framework, based
on knowledge of the diversity, status and
resilience of native ecosystems and their
species and how well they are represented
in protected areas.
  Focusing on the Landscape

The Importance of  
Species Information
It is important to know which plant and
animal species occur and are likely to occur
in the National Reserve System and how
well represented they are to assess whether
we are succeeding in securing the long-term
protection of Australia’s biodiversity.
To know where we’re going, we have to
know where we are. We also need to
know what we have, in order to manage
it effectively. For example, where species
and the landscapes in which they live
are not well represented in protected
areas, Australia may need to take priority
conservation action to increase their
protection. We may also need to consider
emerging threats from human activity or
climate change and target particular areas
for acquisition and inclusion in the reserve
system to ensure our native species can
survive these changes.
It is only with detailed information on our
species and their common biological and
geographical traits that we will achieve a
reserve system that is truly representative of
Australia’s biodiversity – and only with this
knowledge can we manage it effectively.

Our State of Knowledge
This report determines, from available
information, our state of knowledge of
the plant and animal species that are
likely to occur within the reserve system.
For those species for which we have
enough information, it tells us which plant
and animal species are likely to be well
represented in the reserve system, which
species are adequately represented and
which species are under-represented. For
those species without enough information,
it gives a benchmark for how much
information is required on their occurrence
to determine how well they are protected.
The report also investigates whether there
are common biological or geographical
characteristics for species that are either
adequately or under-reserved.
  Focusing on the Landscape

The report uses information on a selection
of terrestrial fauna and flora species,
obtained from the Australian Government’s
Australian Natural Heritage Assessment
Tool (ANHAT). Groups analysed include
amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles,
trapdoor and huntsman spiders, butterflies,
land snails, water and ground beetles,
dragonflies, damselflies and the 50 most
speciose flora families. These groups
have sound digital data and reasonable
continental-scale datasets that allow
analysis. Data consists of species location
records, which are compiled from specimen
and site records held in State, Territory and
Commonwealth flora and fauna collections
and wildlife atlases, and from the work of
individual researchers. The data used in
this report is derived from available digital
data. Further, it is important to note there
is a significant, under-utilised resource
represented by yet-to-be digitised flora and
fauna specimens in Australia’s biological
collections and in thousands of hardcopy
reports around the country.
To maximise the accuracy of the results,
records have been filtered to remove
extinct species and species with data that
is inadequate for analytical purposes. For
those species with adequate information,
site record locations have been assessed
against the spatial data of NRS properties
held in the 2006 Collaborative Australian
Protected Areas Database. The proportion
of the records for each species that lie within
the boundaries of parks and reserves in the
NRS has been determined, as well as the
number of reserves in which each species
occurs, and the number of large reserves
where each species is expected to occur.
This has produced estimates on the relative
state of representation in the reserve
system, enabling identification of species
considered ‘well’ reserved, ‘adequately’
reserved and ‘under’ reserved. Species are
likely to be well reserved if more than 45 per
cent of their records occurred within the
NRS, adequately reserved if 10 per cent to
45 per cent of their site records fell within
the system, and under-reserved if less than
10 per cent of their records fell within the

Extinct species
Of the 20,146 species covered by the report,
31 species are considered extinct and have
been removed from the analysis.
Number of species with 
inadequate data
Of the 20,115 extant species covered by the
report (13,540 flora species and 6,575 fauna
species), 6,652 species (33 per cent) have
inadequate data to enable analysis of their
reservation status. This is made up of
3,329 flora species (24.5 per cent of flora
species with data available) and 3,323 fauna
species (50.5 per cent of fauna species with
data available).
Inadequate data includes species with too
few records (30 or fewer for vertebrate
species, 10 or fewer for invertebrate species
and 30 or fewer for flora species) but also
species with too few records because
they are highly endangered and therefore
Number of species with 
adequate data
After removing extinct species and species
with inadequate data, 13,463 species were
analysed for representativeness in the NRS
(67 per cent of the species examined in the
study). This includes 10,211 flora species
and 3,252 fauna species.
Number of species with adequate 
data and well represented in the 
reserve system
Of those species with adequate data,
3,123 species (23.2 per cent) were found
to be likely to be well represented in the
NRS, with more than 45 per cent of their site
records occurring in the NRS. This is made
up of 2,474 flora species (24.2 per cent
of flora species analysed) and 649 fauna
species (20.1 per cent of fauna species
  Focusing on the Landscape

Species of vertebrates are much better
represented than invertebrate species, which
are equally likely to be poorly reserved as
they are to be well reserved. The fact that
invertebrates have small distributions is likely
to have strongly contributed to this result,
however, inadequate data for most species
is a significant consideration. Over half the
invertebrate species investigated (56 per
cent) are too data-poor to make a judgement
about conservation status.
continental-scale survey work will clarify 
the patterns of representation of these 
species within the NRS.
Vertebrates are expected to be well-
represented in the reserve system, with an
average of 78 per cent likely to be adequately
or well reserved. Of the vertebrates, birds
are the best surveyed, and can be expected
to be the best reserved, with 93 per cent
of species likely to be adequately or well
reserved. However of this, only 9.7 per cent
are considered well reserved. Amphibians,
reptiles and mammals had similar expected
levels of reservation, with between 15 and
21 per cent considered likely to be well
reserved. All of these groups need further
survey to confirm the status of many inland
and northern Australian species.
The plant families investigated are well
represented in the reserve system, with
66 per cent of species likely to be adequately
or well represented in the reserve system.
On average, most species have an average
of 31 per cent of their total recorded sites in
Australia falling within the NRS, indicating
strong representation. However, there is
substantial variation between flora families,
with the percentage of well-reserved
species in each family ranging from 0 per
cent to 66 per cent. About a quarter of flora
species do not have sufficient data to make
a judgement on their likely status within the
reserve system. Again, this highlights the
need for a continental-scale survey to provide
more comprehensive and systematic data.
Encouragingly, most flora and fauna 
species that are expected to occur in 
the NRS on the basis of these records, 
have been recorded in at least one large 
reserve (more than 1,000 hectares). 
Number of species with adequate 
data and adequately represented 
in the reserve system
Of those species with adequate data,
8,692 species (approximately 65 per cent)
were found to be likely to have adequate
levels of reservation, with 10 per cent to
45 per cent of their site records falling within
the NRS. This consists of 6,530 flora species
(64 per cent of flora species analysed) and
2,162 fauna species (66.1 per cent of fauna
species analysed).
These figures, together 
with the figures for well-represented 
species, provide strong evidence that 
Australia’s biodiversity is likely to be 
soundly represented within the NRS.
Number of species with adequate 
data but under-represented in the 
reserve system
Of those species with adequate data,
approximately 1,648 species (12 per cent)
were found to be under-reserved, with
less than 10 per cent of their site records
occurring within the NRS. This includes
1,207 flora species (11.8 per cent of flora
species analysed) and 441 fauna species
(13.7 per cent of fauna species analysed).
A significant proportion of these under-
reserved species are from inland or 
northern Australia.
For flora species, approximately 33 per cent
of the species within each plant family were
recorded to have less than 10 per cent of
their records within the reserve system, and
the majority of families were recorded to have
at least one species with no records known in
the NRS. For fauna, the invertebrate species
had a higher percentage of inadequately
reserved species (20.6 per cent), compared
to the vertebrate species, which had only 6.3
per cent of species inadequately reserved.
These results suggest taxa groups with
small distributions, such as invertebrates and
narrowly restricted plants, are not necessarily
well protected by the current reserve system.
The results also reflect the general paucity
of protected areas and data from inland and
northern Australia.

Fauna and Flora Groups for 
Survey Attention
Although improved data for any given
species would be beneficial, there are some
groups that require special attention. The
picture of what biodiversity is protected
may change significantly with more surveys
on these lesser-known groups and new
species discoveries. The many surveys
around Australia contributing to this report
have informed our understanding, but there
is clearly value in systematic survey of
the reserve system at a continental scale
to supplement this invaluable work and
contextualise the information gathered.
For fauna, invertebrate species are
particularly poorly known. While only
15.9 per cent of vertebrate species have
inadequate data, the figure is much larger
for invertebrates, with 64 per cent of species
having inadequate data to allow assessment.
As such, most invertebrates are not able to
be assessed for their representation in the
reserve system, although this report provides
an important first glimpse. This pattern is
consistent across all invertebrate groups
Future Work — Survey and 
included in this report. It is evident that
surveys of the invertebrate fauna within the
NRS are urgently required to understand their
representation levels. The three most data
deficient groups identified in this report are:
Carabidae (ground beetles); Mygalomorphae
(trap-door spiders); and Sparassidae
(huntsman spiders).
Vertebrate species are generally well
understood. Birds, in particular, are very
well recorded, with 2 per cent of species
having inadequate data. Reptiles have the
highest percentage of inadequate data for
the vertebrates (27 per cent of species). Of
significance, no single reptile species was
recorded to occur in more than 100 large
reserves, which is the category most likely to
provide a secure conservation future. Further
survey work is highly recommended to gain
a better picture of their status in the reserve
system. Amphibians are the second most
data deficient group of vertebrates.
Of significance, both vertebrate and
invertebrate species from the less populated
regions of Australia, namely inland and
northern Australia, are more likely to have
inadequate data.
  Focusing on the Landscape

Of the flora families analysed in the report,
the five most under-represented families
in the reserve system, and therefore
the highest priority for reservation, are:
Cycadaceae; Amaranthaceae; Aizoaceae;
Chenopodiaceae; and Mimosaceae.
Target Areas for Reservation
The priority taxa identified as most under-
represented in the reserve system are
strongly represented in inland and northern
Australia and this should inform reserve
priority-setting and private land conservation
Further Reporting
Further to this report, a full report across
vertebrates, selected invertebrates, all
vascular plants and non-vascular plants is
required. Consistent reporting over time
will demonstrate changes in our state of
knowledge informed by further survey work.
For flora, 24.5 per cent of species have
inadequate data to assess reservation
status, highlighting the importance of
further survey work on the representation
of Australia’s flora species in the reserve
system. The five flora families in the
report most in need of further survey due
to data deficiencies are: Combretaceae;
Lauraceae; Cupressaceae; Meliaceae; and
Zamiaceae. As is the case for fauna, the call
for improved data particularly rings true for
species located in inland Australia.
These results strongly emphasise the 
need for further survey work across 
Australia but particularly focusing on 
central and northern Australia.
Fauna and Flora Groups for 
Reservation Attention
Many of the same groups identified as
requiring further survey are also priorities for
further reservation based on what is known.
In the fauna, reptiles and amphibians,
Carabidae and Mygalomorphae are
priorities for reservation.

As a key tool in large-scale, landscape-level
biodiversity conservation, expansion of the
National Reserve System (NRS) relies on
having adequate information on species
distributions across the continent. This
report provides an initial indicator of the
biodiversity that is reserved in Australia’s
NRS. However, with the data from Australian
Natural Heritage Assessment Tool
representing only a portion of the species
existing in Australia, and over a third of
this data being inadequate for assessment
of reservation levels, there is room for
improved knowledge to complete the
biodiversity picture.
With the knowledge compiled in this report
as a baseline, we have a clear path forward
towards expanding our knowledge of the
biodiversity in the NRS. Further survey
and monitoring effort is necessary both
to expand the set of species for which we
can assess reservation levels and to clarify
the patterns that have been observed in
this analysis with more robust data. Effort
needs to go into gathering information
from areas that are not well surveyed,
particularly inland and northern Australia.
Furthermore, to ensure that decisions are
made on the basis of representation of all
groups of flora and fauna, focus is required
on groups of species that are particularly
poorly surveyed. This report also shows
the need to improve the reserve system in
inland and northern Australia, as well as the
underpinning data for these areas.
Nevertheless, the data we do have shows
the NRS is doing an outstanding job as the
centrepiece of biodiversity conservation
in Australia. Of the 67 per cent of species
surveyed with adequate data, over 88%
are adequately or well-represented in the
reserve system. Continued cooperation
between the Australian Government,
State and Territory agencies, industry and
non-government contributors, will enable
Australia to effectively monitor the ongoing
success of the NRS in securing the long-
term protection of Australia’s ecosystems
and the plants and animals they support.
  Focusing on the Landscape

Summary of Data
Number of terrestrial species described in Australia:
Invertebrates — Odonata
Invertebrates — Lepidoptera
Invertebrates — Pulmonata
Invertebrates — Mygalomorphae and Sparassidae
Invertebrates — Dytiscidae and Carabidae
Number of terrestrial species covered by report:
Invertebrates — Odonata
Invertebrates — Lepidoptera
Invertebrates — Pulmonata
Invertebrates — Mygalomorphae and Sparassidae
Invertebrates — Dytiscidae and Carabidae
*  Includes undescribed species
^  Includes 16 extinct flora species, 1 extinct amphibian species, 12 extinct mammal
species and 2 extinct bird species = total 31 extinct species

Number of species well, adequately and under-represented in the 
National Reserve System*:
Adequate data

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