With large areas of Australia underwater it is hard to know how badly our native wildlife has been affected by this widespread flooding.
During floods, wildlife will seek higher ground but it’s likely many of the slow-moving ground reptiles, small mammals and burrowing species will have been highly impacted. A 2008 study found reptiles and small mammals virtually wiped out after flooding in the Gulf Carpentaria1.
Arboreal animals may be more successful at escaping floods but can then become stranded, exposed and vulnerable to predators. Foraging also becomes difficult when vegetation is submerged or dead, and food is scarce. Even aquatic wildlife such as water rats, freshwater turtles, platypus and crocs can be swept away and drown in fast moving water.
There are also flow-on effects in the marine environment. Sediment can destroy seagrass beds and disrupt dugong food supplies. And a sudden flux of freshwater (high in excess nutrients and sediment) has implications for coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s been widely reported that snakes are turning up all over the place and sheltering in people’s homes as they try and find dry ground. From the 1974 floods there are stories of hundreds of tree snakes and carpet pythons taking refuge in one particularly large tree along the Brisbane river.
Bull sharks have been seen swimming through Brisbane streets, as have crocs in Rockhampton. I imagine both species would be trying to avoid fast moving water and hang out in calmer backwaters or in this case, backstreets.
Other interesting reports have surfaced in the media. A Gilbert’s dragon (Loghagnathus gilberti) more commonly found in inland QLD has apparently hitched a ride downstream and was rescued from floodwaters in Rocky. Nearby, a large fish kill has been reported caused by low O2 levels due to flood-induced rotting vegetation. Also, I was relieved to read that the St George colony of Northern Hairy Nosed Wombats has survived thus far.
And this amazing photo has come out of Dalby. Normally foes these two have come together in a time of crisis!
Flooding is a natural process and there are some wildlife winners. Frogs, wetland birds, flood-spawning fish (such as Barramundi and Mangrove Jack) and of course sand flies and mosquitoes tend to benefit from the influx of freshwater.
So, there will be winners and losers, but exactly how has our native wildlife fared? We’ll just have to wait and see.
All our thoughts go out to those affected by flooding across Australia.