New research by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub has shown that invasive or pest species are a problem for 1257 threatened species in Australia, or about four out of five species.

The research, which has been published in the scientific journal Pacific Conservation Biology also identified the top 10 invasive species based on how many threatened species they impact.

Lead researcher Stephen Kearney from the University of Queensland said many people may be surprised at which species top the list.

A European red fox along the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia. Foxes are a threat to 95 of Australia's threatened animal species. Photo / Nicolas Rakotopare
A European red fox along the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia. Foxes are a threat to 95 of Australia's threatened animal species. Photo / Nicolas Rakotopare

"Rabbits, a plant root disease and feral pigs are the top three pest species impacting Australia's threatened species," Kearney said.

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"Rabbits are our most destructive invasive species, impacting over 300 threatened species. In contrast, cats are a major threat to about 123 threatened species, and foxes, 95.

"A key reason that rabbits impact such a very high number of native species is that they impact both threatened plants and animals.

"Rabbits destroy plants and can stop them regenerating by eating the seedlings, they compete with native grazing animals for food and even boost the number of predators like cats and foxes.

Yellow mountain bell (Darwinia collina) from Western Australia is one of 236 threatened species in Australia that are threatened by the plant disease phytophthora. Photo / Geoff Derrin
Yellow mountain bell (Darwinia collina) from Western Australia is one of 236 threatened species in Australia that are threatened by the plant disease phytophthora. Photo / Geoff Derrin

"The second most problematic invasive species in Australia is a plant disease called phytophthora, which is also known as root rot fungus, which affects over 200 threatened native plants.

"Feral pigs are in third place, affecting about 150 threatened species.

"Nationally we don't often talk about feral pigs, but we should. Pigs destroy vast areas of crops, wetlands and floodplains in northern Australia. They even dig up and eat sea turtle eggs and hatchlings along beaches.

The top 10 invasive species in Australia based on how many threatened species they impact. Image / Threatened Species Recovery Hub
The top 10 invasive species in Australia based on how many threatened species they impact. Image / Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Australia's 10 worst invasive species and the number of Australian threatened species they affect:

European rabbit 321

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Phytophthora plant disease 236

Feral pig 149

Feral cat 123

Feral goat 116

European red fox 95

Lantana 95

Blackberry 47

Black rat 42

Feral cattle 39

In fourth place, feral cats impact 123 native species in Australia. Photo / Stephen Kearney
In fourth place, feral cats impact 123 native species in Australia. Photo / Stephen Kearney

"Cats are in fourth place affecting 123 threatened species. They have a particularly devastating effect on Australia's small to medium sized mammals, and also impact many threatened birds and reptiles.

"Foxes, in equal sixth place, are frequently in the media, but feral goats, in fifth place, actually affect more threatened species, with 95 and 116 species impacted respectively.

"This does not mean foxes are not a problem, it means there are also other really problematic pests out there that as a community we have not been talking about as much," said Kearney.

The other invasive species in the top ten are the weeds lantana and blackberry, and black rats and feral cattle.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is a collaboration of 10 leading Australian universities and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to undertake research to support the recovery of Australia's threatened species.