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Key threatening processes
Slow effective change mechanisms of evolution cause environmental mayhem in hasty human hands

A threatening process is defined as a key threatening process if it threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community.

However, threatening processes are part and parcel of the change agents upon which evolution itself is predicated. The countless extinctions and survival of the fittest attest to the power and impact of key threatening processes throughout the history of the living world.

Many evolutionary threatening processes are very gradual and there is time for slow natural selection to shape new species. However, nowadays, human activities are responsible for causation of a growing range of key threatening processes that are not gradual and have impacts that are rapid onset and often devastating. 

In Australia, the recognised key threatening processes include the impact of alien species; land clearing; destruction of habitat, forests, reefs, rivers, lakes; climate change; fire management regimes; introduced plant and animal diseases.

This website category relates to threatening and key threatening processes in Australia. Where an interview topic focuses primarily to another website category (eg frogs, wildlife health and survival) the topic has been linked to the primary category page where the soundfile and story are located
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  Cinnamon fungus
Dr Brett Summerell, Head of Science and Conservation at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, takes the microscope to a key threatening process for native ecosystems, an introduced pathogen known as cinnamon fungus. While cinnamon fungus causes serious diseases in horticulture where it can be somewhat controlled, it has spread to bushland and native ecosystems, attacking a broad range of Australian plants, causing huge losses in plant diversity as well as the creatures that depend on them. Grass trees are highly susceptible as are Wollemi pines and many Western Australian plant species are more susceptible than those in the East and the disease has devastating effects in the Sterling Ranges.

  Myrtle fungus
Dr Brett Summerell, Head of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, investigates another key threatening process, this time a fungus known as Puccinia psidii that causes a disease called myrtle rust. Myrtle rust was first recorded in 2010 in the Gosford region and has already spread widely along the length of the east coast, preferring areas with abundant rainfall from the coast to the ranges. Myrtle rust is a bright, yellowy-orange fungus that produces masses of spores on highly susceptible plants. Since it affects leaves, fruit and flowers, the fungus can have a big impact on plant health, stopping photosynthesis and reproduction. Some species will potentially become extinct.

  Feral honey bees: a sting in the tale
While honey bees provide us with honey and pollinate some crops, less known are their adverse effects on the natural environment. Honey bees do not keep to the hives people make for them, and escapees have spread as feral colonies across the Australian landscape. It has been estimated that honey bees consume over 90% of our floral resources of nectar and pollen upon which a long list of native species depend; including insects (native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles), mammals (sugar gliders, pygmy possums) and birds (honeyeaters) all of which suffer from the competition from honey bees. Professor Graham Pyke from the University of Technology Sydney, outlines how honey bees have impacted the Australian landscape.

  Garden escapees
Most problem weeds in Australia are in fact garden escapees. Controlling weeds in the landscape is a daunting and ongoing task, given that 15% of all plants in Australia are weeds and that the eight worst weeds have taken over twenty million hectares of Australian countryside.

  Vines and scramblers
Although invasive vines and scramblers have been listed as a key threatening process (along with other better know examples such as rabbits and cane toads) they have attracted little research interest. Dr Carla Harris discusses her doctoral research into invasive climbing plants that are having adverse effects on our native ecosystems.


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