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Blue Mountains' greater glider population found to have crashed by estimated 60 per cent

Tuesday April 6, 2021 - 20:54 EST
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Ecologist Dr Peter Smith warns the gliders' future is bleak if last summer's fires become the norm. - ABC

Bushfires, drought, and heatwaves have smashed the population of native greater gliders in New South Wales' Blue Mountains by around 60 per cent, new research has found.

Ecologist Dr Peter Smith, alongside Dr Judy Smith, conducted surveys in parts of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (BMWHA) and around Jenolan and Wombeyan in the Central West in spring last year.

They found populations had dramatically changed after the successive impact of the 2019?20 bushfires, drought, and heatwaves.

"Where all the foliage had been burnt, the severely burnt sites, we couldn't find greater gliders again," Dr Smith said.

"In areas where it had been partially burnt we were pleased to see they were still hanging on, in reduced numbers, but they were still there.

"We were also finding in the unburned areas they're taking a big hit [from] the drought and heatwaves."

Their analysis found, overall, the estimated population in the BMWHA had plummeted by around 60 per cent.

The large marsupials are not listed as endangered in NSW, but Dr Smith said the collapse meant that needed to be reassessed.

"The future looks a bit bleak for them," he said.

"If we continue with this elevated level of fires and droughts and heatwaves you can really see them disappearing from the [World Heritage Area] entirely, so it is a big worry."

Dr Smith called for further action to mitigate climate change, warning the future for species like the gliders would be "diabolical" if the environmental conditions around the so-called Black Summer fires were to become the norm.

"Halting climate change needs to be a much more urgent priority in Australia than it has been," he said.

The research was commissioned by the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, which is trying to build corridors of fragmented habitat to conserve the long-term survival of wildlife, plants, and ecosystems.

Dr Smith said it could be one way of ensuring the gliders did not become extinct, along with investing more in fire management techniques such as early suppression and remote-area specialist firefighters to prevent blazes from becoming devastating.


© ABC 2021

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