Concern for wildlife in WA heatwave

Conservationists and researchers are increasingly concerned for the health and wellbeing of wildlife as Western Australians sweat through successive heatwaves.

Four days in February (1, 2, 9 and 10) have already surpassed 40°C and with more sweltering days forecast – 42° on Thursday and 40° on Sunday – this February is on track to be the hottest February on record in Perth.

Katherine Moseby, Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, explained that prolonged heatwaves like this “can cause a lot of animals to die.”

“We’ve got evidence for that in birds, bats, kangaroos, rodents and koalas, there’s a lot of mass mortality events that can happen as a result of extreme heat.

“Studies on numbats show they may be susceptible to extreme heat. They have to forage during the day, so excessive heat can be problematic for that species.

“When it gets too hot, they have to stick to the shade, they forage less, it can affect their breathing and then it can lead to death if the heatwave is prolonged.”

Grace Blackburn, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Western Australia, explained how extreme heat pushes magpies beyond their limits.

“We’ve found that about 32 degrees Celsius is a temperature threshold for magpies,” she said.

“Magpies experience cognitive decline in extreme temperatures and reduced reproductive success, as we see less young surviving during heatwaves.

“Studies have shown in other birds that high temperatures may affect how birds respond to predators, or even how they respond to members of the same species!”

ACF’s nature campaigner Peta Bulling said heatwaves add to the many pressures nature faces.

“Wildlife is already under intense pressure from deforestation and invasive species,”she said.

“When you add extreme weather like this, the results can be devastating. Climate change brings more severe and frequent heatwaves, tougher droughts and more ferocious bushfires.

“The wildlife and places we love are struggling to adapt to these pressures. Wildlife and habitats don’t have time to recover or adapt before they’re battered by more extreme weather.

“We need governments to invest in resilient ecosystems to give Australia’s unique wildlife the best chance as possible to weather the climate crisis.”

Magpie pic: Philip Bell

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