Threatened Flora Lists

Until 1998, three distinct lists existed for threatened flora at a national level:

  • Schedules to the Commonwealth's Endangered Species Protection Act 1992.
  • The ANZECC lists of threatened fauna and flora.
  • The Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (ROTAP) list developed by the CSIRO. This system is based on a coding system which provides a means of ranking the plants according to the level of risk they face in the wild.

On 16 July 2000, the Commonwealth Government introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This act superseded the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (and several other Acts). In conjunction with the introduction of the EPBC Act, the aim is to now have a single list of threatened flora which will be reflected in Schedules to that Act.

EPBC Act Threatened Species Lists

In respect of threatened plant species, the EPBC Act recognises the following categories:

  • Extinct - no reasonable doubt that the last member of the species has died.
  • Extinct in the wild - species exists only in cultivation.
  • Critically endangered - extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future.
  • Endangered - very high risk of extinction in the near future.
  • Vulnerable - high risk of extinction in the medium term
  • Conservation dependent - species is dependent on a specific conservation program without which it would become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered within 5 years.

The website for the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has a Guide to the EPBC Act and also has a list of threatened species currently protected under the Act.

ROTAP Coding System

Despite the move to a combined national flora list, the ROTAP coding system devised by Leigh, Briggs and Hartley is still commonly seen in numerous scientific and general publications. Although having no legal standing, the system provides a relatively simple means of categorising the 'at risk' status of Australian plants, including many that are not currently listed in the EPBC schedule. For this reason, an understanding of the ROTAP coding system is worthwhile.

The ROTAP system is based on the combination of three categories:

  • Plant Distribution Category
    A numerical value indicating how widespread the species is.
  • Conservation Status Category
    An alphabetical code which indicates the rarity of the species.
  • Reservation Status Category
    A supplementary code which indicates the adequacy of protection of the species within proclaimed reserves.

An outline of the coding system is given in Table 1 followed by an example of how the coding system is applied in practice:

Table 1: ROTAP Coding System for Plants at Risk

Category Coding Definition
Plant Distribution
Known only from the type* collection
Restricted distribution - range extending over less than 100km
Range more than 100km but in small populations
Conservation Status
Presumed extinct - not collected for 50 years or the only known populations destroyed
Endangered - at serious risk in the short term (one or two decades) **
Vulnerable - at risk over a longer period (20-50 years) **
Rare but with no current identifiable threat
Poorly known species suspected of being at risk
Reservation Status
Species is known to occur within a proclaimed reserve
Species is considered to be adequately reserved. 1000 or more plants occur within a proclaimed reserve
Species is considered to be inadequately reserved. Less than 1000 plants occur within a proclaimed reserve
Species is recordered from a reserve but the population size is unknown
Total known species population is within a reserve
Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) Priority Flora Code. Range from P1 (highest priority) to P4 (lowest priority).
Species also occurs outside of Australia
*     The "type" is the plant specimen used to originally describe a species.
**    Species considered to be either Endangered or Vulnerable are classified as "Threatened".

Example of the Application of ROTAP Codes

   Dillwynia tenuifolia
   Dillwynia tenuifolia Photo: Brian Walters

As an example of the use of the codes, consider Dillwynia tenuifolia, one of the "bush peas" of eastern New South Wales. This species is listed as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act and has a ROTAP Code of 2RCa which means:

  • 2 - It has a range covering less than 100 km
  • R - Rare in the wild but with no current identifiable threat
  • Ca - Occurs within proclaimed reserves and the known population exceeds 1000 plants

Further examples of Australian plants at risk, including the EPBC Act categories and ROTAP codes can be found here.

State and Territory Threatened Flora Lists

In addition to the national lists of threatened flora, each State and Territory has its own listing. These will often include species not included on the national list or will apply a higher conservation category than the national category for a specific plant. These apparent anomalies occur for several reasons but are often due to a plant occurring in several states but being very restricted or under a greater threat in one state.

For further information on State and Territory lists, refer to the specific Parks and Wildlife authority.

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