Witnessing the fires that devastated the forests of Australia was horrific: millions of people in danger, large area evacuations, and an infinite number of medical interventions. The damage caused by the fire is extreme in every way, and the impact this fiery catastrophe had on flora and fauna is massive.
One of the questions that quickly became important is the survival of koalas, probably the cutest mammal native to the Australian continent. Australian authorities estimated how almost 80% of their natural habitat was lost in the fires. This fact is what made people mention something called ‘’functional extinction.’’ Usually, calling a species extinct comes after several studies that focus on the population in question. But, in essence, if a species is extinct, that means it is gone forever. What does functional extinction mean, and are koalas falling into that category?
Functional Extinction Of Koalas?
A functionally extinct species is the one in which there are not enough individual members to secure the survival of the species. Not enough members mean that they can not create offspring and that their role in the ecosystem will vanish. The concern for koalas was even greater because, in 2016, the overall population of koalas in Australia was estimated to 329,000, which already marked a significant drop of 25% over the last three generations.
Devastation Of Eucalyptus Trees
Fires that raged across Australia killed thousands of koalas, most of them in New South Wales. Struck by fires, koalas suffered from drought, deprivation of food, even dog attacks, and chlamydia. The eucalyptus tree, which is the primary source of food and living habitat for the koalas, is very adaptable when it comes to extreme conditions.
In some fires, the flames would not even get up high enough to reach the koalas where they would hide. After the fire, the eucalyptus recovers fast, and it grows back. However, these fires were so powerful and extremely hot; the eucalyptus trees would explode because they are filled with eucalyptus oil.
There Is Some Good News
The fires catastrophically hit the natural habitat of the koalas. However, the scientific community is still not declaring how the species is functionally extinct. It is estimated how between 1 to 2.5 million hectares of land and forests was destroyed across New South Wales and Queensland.
The good news is that koalas can live in other forests in the east of Australia, that covers more than 100 million hectares. The population of New South Wales almost perished, but the one in the state of Victoria has remained untouched by the fires. The koalas in Australia will be specially monitored from now on, as their survival is threatened.
What does functional extinction mean?
Functional extinction means that there are not enough individual members of a particular species to create offspring and have any role in the ecosystem.
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