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By Will Steffen, A.A. Burbidge, L. Hughes, R. Kitching, D. Lindenmayer, W. Musgrave, M. Stafford-Smith, P. A. Werner

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Plants, animals and micro-organisms provide nearly all of our food, medicines and drugs. Many commercial products are made from naturally occurring plants and animals found in the Australian landscape, including renewable resources like paper, leather, fuel and building materials. Indeed, the role of trees and vertebrates in providing human shelter, fuel and food are well known. This is in contrast to the economic uses and products of relatively inconspicuous invertebrates, which are relatively unknown.

By comparison, the entire Australian gross domestic product in 2005–06 was about A$965€billion (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008). 2 Utilitarian values of individual species Another important reason for the conservation of biodiversity is its economic contribution or monetary value of individual species or groups derived for particular regions. Australia’s biota and its landscapes, for example, attract tourists to Australia. The koala Phascolarctos cinereus, alone, is estimated to be worth over a billion dollars annually to the Australian tourism industry (Australian State of the Environment Committee 2001).

4), but several other species are also having significant impact on biodiversity, for example, camels, feral cattle, donkeys, goats, cane toads, some species of invertebrate animals such as ants, and pathogens such as Phytophthora and the chytrid fungus. 3 A pair of feral cats feeding on prey in grass. Feral cats feed on native species and can pose a serious threat to native wildlife. Source: AUSCAPE. Photo by Kathie Atkinson. increasing problem (Fig. 5). Undoubtedly ‘sleeper’ species – introduced some years ago but with limited, local distributions currently – could become major problems in the future, especially as the environment changes.

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