The Australian Realm
The Australian Zoogeographic Realm comprises the island continent of Australia and nearby islands, the largest of which is Tasmania. There has long been much confusion over the terms ‘Australian’ and ‘Australasian’, and a number of competing definitions as to what exactly should be included within them. From a purely geological standpoint Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia are all fragments of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana. These three landmasses have been separated from other continents, and from each other, for tens of millions of years. Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania, for their part, are separated from one another by shallow continental shelves and were linked together when the sea level was lower during the ice ages. They therefore share a similar fauna, which includes marsupial and monotreme mammals and ratite birds (New Zealand also has ratite birds, the kiwis along with the now-extinct moas), along with certain common floristic elements. From a biogeographic perspective, however, the fauna and flora of Australia (together with Tasmania), New Guinea and New Zealand, while sharing the aforementioned similarities, are all highly unique in their own ways. They are accordingly treated here as separate. Australia itself seems to have been isolated by water barriers longer and more effectively than any other continent, except perhaps for Antarctica. This explains why it is so rich in unique animals of great scientific interest. Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, its great size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with tropical rainforests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the east and south-west, and dry desert and semi-desert in the centre. It is mostly flat with few large rivers, and has therefore few geographical barriers to the spread of plants and animals. But there are climatic boundaries. Thus, low precipitation has had a tremendous influence. Practically the whole continent is arid, one-third of it having an annual rainfall not exceeding 25 cm and the average precipitation throughout Australia just 38 cm, with high evaporation. Only about one-third of the continent can be cultivated, chiefly in the coastal fringe that receives sufficient rainfall to grow crops or artificial pastures. Twenty-five per cent of Australia is desert and 47 per cent arid or semi-arid grassland. Despite this dry climate, the vegetation varies greatly, ranging from tropical in the north to temperate in the south. Australia’s relatively few woods and forests, which are unfortunately concentrated along the eastern coast (the most heavily populated area), are dominated by eucalypts. They grow in open or closed communities with thin or dense undergrowth of shrubs and herbs in wet or dry habitats. The resulting deforestation has had serious repercussions on the fauna, because many species were restricted to this habitat and others took refuge there when they were persecuted in the plains.
In terms of its animal life, Australia is a world unto itself. Its small size as a continent, isolated location, and the length of time it has been separated from other continents have led its flora and fauna to follow other lines of evolution than those that can be traced elsewhere. In particular, the vertebrate fauna of this region represents several ancient elements that do not exist elsewhere. They came from Asia a long time ago, were geographically isolated, and survived after their Asian ancestors died out. They then evolved and radiated into many different species, which adapted to local habitats. The great specialization and differentiation of the marsupials (pouched mammals) is an outstanding example of such evolution and adaptation. They have filled habitats that on other continents are occupied by a large number of placental mammals of various other classes: primates, rodents, carnivores, and ungulates. This predominance of pouched animals among the mammals of Australia will be realized when it is noted that before the colonization of the continent by Europeans there were only two other orders of mammals there: rodents and bats (if man himself and the dingo he introduced are excepted). The success of pouched animals in Australia must be seen in the light of the fact that they had no competition from other orders of mammals, and that they were peculiarly able to adjust themselves to the rather difficult conditions of life in Australia. It is wrong, therefore, to regard – as is often done – pouched animals as failures because they have not evolved into the higher forms found on other continents. On the contrary, marsupials have shown a degree of adaptability that not even the most specialized mammals on other continents can equal.
Species and subspecies
Perhaps the most famous animal resident of Australia is the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). This species is entirely dependent for food on a few species of Eucalyptus. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was plentiful throughout eastern Australia from northern Queensland to the south-eastern corner of mainland South Australia. It was some time before the Europeans discovered that the fur of the koala was valuable; then a reckless persecution was initiated. The koala was a peculiarly helpless prey: sitting or climbing slowly among the light foliage of the crowns of the eucalypt trees, a myriad was shot or trapped. The koala was also vulnerable in the sense that it was too attached to the eucalypts and could not move to safer habitats. Moreover, it is a slow-breeding animal and the young were killed or captured with their mothers. The slaughter brought the koala near extinction. In 1920 only 500 koalas reportedly remained in Victoria, and the total Australian export was two million skins. Three years later, 10,000 licensed trappers in Queensland took half a million koalas, only half the number taken in 1921. By 1930 the koala had become extremely rare in New South Wales as a result of exploitation and disease. This extermination of such a harmless and unique animal is one of the more shameful episodes in the destruction of nature in Australia. Fortunately, public opinion finally reacted strongly to the slaughter, and the authorities proclaimed complete protection for the koala and prohibited the export of its skins. The koala was saved at the very last moment, and has made a remarkable recovery in the decades since. However, it remains threatened by loss of habitat and stochastic events such as droughts and bushfires. It currently occurs in suitable areas in north-eastern, central and south-eastern Queensland, with patchy populations in western areas, eastern New South Wales including the coastal strip and highlands of the Great Dividing Range and the western plains, Victoria, and south-eastern South Australia. It has also been introduced to at least a dozen islands, including Magnetic Island in Queensland, French and Philip islands in Victoria, and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
The crescent nail-tail wallaby (Onychogalea lunata) was once widespread in semi-arid south-western Australia, where it was described as abundant in the western Australian wheatbelt in the early 1900s. The species was probably wiped out by a combination of introduced predators, habitat degradation and perhaps disease. The last individual to be collected alive was caught in a dingo trap on the Nullarbor Plain in the late 1920s, which was later sent to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The last known specimen was killed in 1956, although reports indicate that the species may have hung on in some restricted desert areas. In any case it is now certainly extinct. The bridled nailtail wallaby (O. fraenata) was also historically found over a wide area extending through the inland regions of eastern Australia, from south-western South Australia to as far north as the base of the Cape York Peninsula. It was said to have been common at the time of European settlement, but declined catastrophically during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, probably due to introduced predators. By 1937 it was thought to be extinct. In 1973, however, an isolated population was discovered near the town of Dingo in central Queensland, on a property now protected as Taunton National Park. Reintroduced populations have been established from there to three other protected areas in Queensland and New South Wales.
The Parma wallaby (Macropus parma), the smallest member of its genus, was first described by British naturalist John Gould in northern New South Wales around 1840. A shy, cryptic species, it was never commonly encountered and indeed was thought to have been extinct by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1965, however, workers on Kawai Island, New Zealand unexpectedly discovered a substantial population. The animals had apparently been imported and released there about 1870, together with three other species of Australia wallabies. These were captured and sent to institutions around the world for purposes of captive breeding, in the hope that they could eventually be reintroduced into their native habitat. Another major discovery took place in 1967, when it was found that the species still existed in forests near Gosford, New South Wales. Before long other populations were discovered in forests of the Great Dividing Range as far north as the border with Queensland. Although not common, it is no longer considered to be seriously threatened.
Several species of rock wallaby (Petrogale) are threatened by habitat destruction and predation by foxes, dogs, and feral cats. The Mareeba rock wallaby (P. mareeba) is confined to a small area west and south-west of Cairns in north-eastern Queensland, where it lives in a handful of discontinuous colonies. Godman’s rock wallaby (P. godmani) lives in a series of discontinuous colonies within a small area north of Cairns in north-eastern Queensland. The Cape York rock wallaby (P. coenensis) is found patchily in the eastern part of the Cape York Peninsula of far northern Queensland. The Proserpine rock wallaby (P. persephone) is confined to a small area of central-eastern coastal Queensland, mainly within protected areas. A translocated population has also been established on Hayman Island from captive-bred stock. The purple-necked rock wallaby (P. purpureicollis) is confined to north-western Queensland, where it lives in a series of discontinuous colonies. The pygmy rock wallaby (P. concinna) is found patchily in northern Australia (north-eastern Western Australia including four offshore islands, and northern parts of Northern Territory). Burbidge’s rock wallaby (P. burbidgei) is confined to a small coastal area of the Kimberley region in north-eastern Western Australia, including a few offshore islands. Subfossil material indicates that it formerly had a wider range. The brush-tailed rock wallaby (P. penicillata) historically had a wide range across eastern Australia, but is now confined to scattered populations in eastern New South Wales and southeastern Queensland. Introduced populations occur in Hawaii and (formerly) New Zealand. The black-flanked rock wallaby (P. lateralis) is generally divided into three subspecies. The nominate form (P. l. lateralis) was historically widespread through most of central and north-central Australia wherever suitable rocky habitat occurred through most, along with a few islands off the western and southern coast. Owing to predation by introduced European red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and, to a lesser extent, feral dogs and cats it has been extirpated over most of its former range and now survives only in a few widely scattered areas of Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia. The yellow-footed rock wallaby (P. xanthopus) was described as common in parts of South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland in the 1920s, but declined markedly as a result of hunting for its very attractive and valuable pelt. Fragmented populations of the southern yellow-footed rock wallaby (P. x. xanthopus) persist in South Australia within the Gawler, Flinders, and Olary ranges, and in the Gap and Coturaundee ranges in New South Wales. The northern yellowfooted rock wallaby (P. x. celeris) has a restricted distribution in the rocky ranges of central-western Queensland.
Hare-wallabies of the genus Lagorchestes are a group of small macropods that have been much reduced since the nineteenth century by habitat destruction and introduced predators. The eastern hare-wallaby (L. leporides) was a little-known species that occurred in central New South Wales, north-western Victoria and eastern South Australia. Subfossil material showed that it formerly occurred in southern Queensland as well. It was reported to be common in the 1850s on the plains around the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers, but declined rapidly after that owing to the alteration of its grassland habitat. It was last recorded in 1890. The rufous hare-wallaby (L. hirsutus) was formerly widely distributed in central and western Australia, where it was divided into two named subspecies and a third undescribed one, now extinct, from the central deserts. The nominate form (L. h. hirsutus), from south-western Australia, is also now extinct. The Shark Bay rufous hare-wallaby (L. h. bernieri) has long been restricted to two natural populations in the Bernier and Dorre islands of Shark Bay, Western Australia. It has also been introduced on nearby Trimouille Island and, more recently, to a few protected areas on the mainland (Western Australia, Northern Territory, and New South Wales).
The banded hare-wallaby (Lagostrophus fasciatus) formerly occurred in south-western Australia, the Nullarbor Plain, southern South Australia, and western Victoria, but was exterminated on the mainland at the beginning of the twentieth century and henceforth confined to Bernier and Dorre Islands. It has since been successfully introduced to Faure Island in Shark Bay.
The short-tailed scrub wallaby or quokka (Setonix brachyurus) is a cat-sized, nocturnal species that was historically widespread and abundant throughout south-western Australia including Rottnest, Bald, and Breaksea islands. Populations are now severely fragmented due to a drying climate and predation by introduced red foxes.
Bettongs (Bettongia) are rabbit-sized jumping marsupials sometimes known as rat kangaroos. The burrowing bettong (B. lesueur), the only burrowing species of the kangaroo family and once distributed almost throughout Australia, is today restricted to the Bernier, Dorre, and Barrow islands off Western Australia. This tremendous decrease was caused by the spread of pasture lands, disturbance by man and cattle, competition for water, hunting, predation by dogs and foxes, and so on.
The northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) formerly ranged from central Queensland to at least southcentral New South Wales, although fossil material has been found as far south as Victoria. Today it is entirely confined to a small area of open eucalypt woodland in Epping Forest National Park, central Queensland. In 2008 the total population was just 115 animals, up from 30–40 in the early 1980s. In 2000 dingoes killed 15–20, after which a 20-km long fence was built, encompassing the entire population.
The northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) is a small carnivorous marsupial that historically occurred across northern Australia from Pilbara to south-eastern Queensland, including offshore islands. Owing to habitat destruction and introduced species it is now confined to a few disjunct areas. The eastern quoll (D. viverrinus) was historically widespread across mainland south-eastern Australia including New South Wales, Victoria, and eastern South Australia, but became extinct there by the mid-1960s due to introduced predators and human persecution. It was thereafter entirely restricted to Tasmania and Bruny Island, although starting in 2016 there have been limited reintroductions to fenced-in protected areas in New South Wales and near Canberra. The tiger quoll (D. maculatus) is divided into two subspecies. The southern tiger quoll (D. m. maculatus) was historically found throughout the wet forests of south-eastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania (including some of the Bass Strait Islands). It has been extirpated in many areas due to habitat destruction, introduced predators and human activities. The northern tiger quoll (D. m. gracilis) is confined to a small area of north-eastern Queensland, where it is also threatened mainly by loss of habitat and introduced predators.
The numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a small insectivorous marsupial historically widespread across western, central, and southern Australia. The deliberate introduction of European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) during the nineteenth century resulted in its almost complete eradication. The nominate form (M. f. fasciatus) had, by the 1970s, been reducted to two small areas near Perth where the total population was thought to be less than 1000. It has since been reintroduced to other protected areas in Western and South Australia. The rusty numbat (M. f. rufus) has been extinct since at least the 1960s.
The desert bandicoot (Perameles eremiana) was at one time widespread in the Great Sandy, Gibson, and Tanami Deserts, as well as in the Central Ranges region. It appears to be another victim of introduced predators, the last specimen having been collected from Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route in 1943. Aboriginals of the Western Desert indicated that it disappeared sometime in the mid-twentieth century, with some reporting having eaten it near Lake Mackay as recently as the late 1960s. The eastern barred bandicoot (P. gunnii) has been extirpated from its historical range on the mainland of Australia, but survives in two small introduced populations in Victoria and on the island of Tasmania. The western barred bandicoot (P. bougainville) formerly occurred over vast areas of southern Australia from Western Australia to central New South Wales, but by the late twentieth century was confined to Bernier, Dorre, and Faure islands in Shark Bay. It is currently being reintroduced to selected mainland areas where predators such as red fox are the subject of control programmes.
The golden bandicoot (Isoodon auratus) is divided into three subspecies that, together, were historically widespread in western, central, and northern Australia. Owing to introduced predators it is now almost entirely extirpated from the mainland, surviving only on isolated islands. The nominate form (I. a. auratus) is confined to a small area of north-eastern coastal Western Australia and from Augustus and Uwins islands. The Arnhem Land golden bandicoot (I. a. arnhemensis) is found in an undefined area of coastal Northern Territory.
Two species of pig-footed bandicoot (Chaeropus) historically inhabited much of Australia, where they were reportedly rare even before the arrival of Europeans. Habitat changes, rather than introduced species, are thought to have brought about their decline. The southern pig-footed bandicoot (C. ecaudatus) is believed to have been extinct since the midtwentieth century after vanishing from its last refuge in southern Australia by 1945. The northern pig-footed bandicoot (C. yirratji) from central Australia was last collected near Alice Springs in 1901. Aboriginal records, however, indicate populations surviving in the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts into the 1950s. It too is now considered to be extinct.
The scaly-tailed possum (Wyulda squamicaudata) is an arboreal species confined to the Kimberley region of coastal north-western Australia and adjacent islands. In more recent years populations have been found in a number of localities.
The greater glider (Petauroides volans) is a large, arboreal marsupial that remains widespread across eastern Australia from northern Queensland to southern Victoria, but is everywhere under threat by habitat destruction. In 2020 the species was taxonomically split into three rather ill-defined forms.
The broad-faced potoroo (Potorous platyops) is a little known, small terrestrial marsupial that, to judge from subfossil remains, was once widespread in the semi-arid coastal regions of South Australia and Western Australia, possibly as far north as North West Cape and as far east as Kangaroo Island. It was first collected in 1839, at which time it was already rare, and few other live specimens were ever recorded. The last record is from 1875, when five were sold to the National Museum in Victoria. It is thought to have been driven extinct by introduced cats and bush fires. A surviving species, the long-footed potoroo (P. longipes), is confined to three disjunct areas of south-eastern Australia on the New South Wales–Victoria border, where it is threatened mainly by predation from foxes, dingoes, and feral dogs.
The sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophila) is a mouse-like marsupial that was long known only from a single specimen collected near Lake Amadeus, Northern Territory in 1896. In recent years it has been recorded from a small number of widely separated areas within the Great Victoria Desert and on the Eyre Peninsula in southern Australia.
Two of Australia’s largest rodents are now extinct. The Capricorn rabbit-rat (Conilurus capricornensis) is known only from fossil and subfossil material collected from four localities in Queensland. It is believed to have disappeared after the arrival of Europeans to north-eastern Australia, and may have survived up until very recently. The white-footed rabbit-rat (C. albipes) historically had a wide range in areas of eucalyptus woodland from south-eastern South Australia and Victoria to New South Wales and eastern Queensland. Last recorded in 1860–62 (although with possible sightings as late as the early 1940s), it appears to have been exterminated by a combination of settlement, domestic cats, and introduced foxes. A surviving species, the brush-tailed rabbit-rat (C. penicillatus), is divided into two subspecies found in Australia and New Guinea. The Australian brush-tailed rabbit-rat (C. p. penicillatus) historically occurred throughout much of the monsoonal northern areas, but has disappeared from most of its former range due to habitat destruction and degradation, and most likely feral cat predation as well. The only recent records are from the Cobourg Peninsula in Northern Territory, the Mitchell Plateau and Prince Regent National Park in Western Australia, and from Bathurst, Melville, and Centre Island and Groote Eylandt.
The greater stick-nest rat (Leporillus conditor) became extinct on mainland Australia in the 1930s, surviving only on a few offshore islands along the southern coast. It has since been translocated to other predator-free islands as well as to a fenced-off area at Roxby Downs in South Australia.
The broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus) occurs at present only in small relict colonies in the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales and parts of southern Victoria and Tasmania.
The black-footed tree rat (Mesembriomys gouldii) was historically found discontinuously in northern Australia, specifically in a small area of north-eastern coastal Western Australia, the northern coast of Northern Territory including Melville Islands, and north-eastern Queensland. There have been no records from the Kimberley region since 1982 despite considerable survey efforts. Threats include loss of habitat and predation by feral cats.
The Carpentarian rock rat (Zyzomys palatalis) is known only from a few gorges and associated rocky areas in northcentral coastal Australia (north-eastern Northern Territory). The Arnhem Land rock rat (Z. maini) is confined to the Arnhem Land Plateau and nearby rocky outcrops in northcentral Northern Territory. Both are threatened by loss of habitat and predation from feral cats.
Members of the genus Pseudomys are small nocturnal rodents similar in appearance to the common house mouse (Mus musculus). The blue-grey mouse (P. glaucus) is known only from three historical specimens, two collected in southeastern Queensland and a third from north-eastern New South Wales. It is presumed to be extinct, a victim of habitat destruction and predation by introduced foxes and feral cats. Field’s mouse (P. fieldi) was once found throughout the western two-thirds of Australia, but was extripated by introduced species during the late nineteenth century. Long reduced to a few coastal sand dunes on Bernier Island, in 1999 it was successfully translocated to North West Island in the Montebello Islands, and to Faure Island in Shark Bay in 2003. The Hastings River mouse (P. oralis) is patchily distributed in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales. The smoky mouse (P. fumeus) is confined to a few disjunct areas of southeastern New South Wales and Victoria.
Hopping mice (Notomys) are similar to North American kangaroo rats (Dipodomys), and as such are an interesting example of parallel evolution. The big-eared western hopping mouse (N. macrotis) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1843 near New Norcia in the "Moore River" region, Western Australia. It appears to have been restricted to the western margin of the wheatbelt, where it may have survived well into the twentieth century. The Darling Downs hopping mouse (N. mordax) is known only from a single skull collected in 1922 from southern Queensland. The robust hopping mouse (N. robustus) is known only from skulls taken from old owl roosts within the Flinders and Davenport ranges of South Australia. Never collected alive, the species is now thought to be extinct. All three are thought to have been exterminated by introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats.
The grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is found across eastern coastal Australia from south-eastern Queensland, through eastern New South Wales to southern Victoria. There has been contraction of the northern extent of the range in recent years due to loss of foraging and roosting habitat, with a corresponding increase in the number of permanent colonies in the south.
The ghost bat (Macroderma gigas) was historically found across northern and central Australia but now has a patchy distribution within the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia, the Top End of Northern Territory, northern and eastern Queensland, and possibly parts of New Guinea. It is threatened mainly by loss of its roosting sites.
Troughton’s pouched bat (Saccolaimus mixtus) is known only from a small number of specimens collected from the Cape York Peninsula in far north-eastern Australia and fron southern New Guinea.
The eastern free-tailed bat (Micronomus norfolkensis) is largely confined to the eastern coastal plains and ranges of New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland, where it is threatened by loss of habitat. The original description from Norfolk Island appears to be erroneous, as the species has never been found there since.
The Australian sarus crane (Antigone antigone gilliae) is a non-migratory subspecies confined to grassland and wetland areas of northern and north-eastern Australia (Northern Territory and Queensland).
The Cape Barren goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) is a large grazing bird found in the coastal areas and islands of southern Australia. During the mid-twentieth century it was intensively hunted in some areas and reduced to a low of perhaps 4000 in all, although numbers have since recovered. The Recherche Cape Barren goose (C. n. grisea) breeds only on the islands of the Recherche Archipelago, where the population has remained more or less stable at around 1000. Loss of suitable grazing areas is now the main threat to this subspecies, but for the moment it appears to be safe.
The Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) is a large, cryptic, heron-like bird found very disjunctly in wetland areas of south-eastern and south-western Australia (including Tasmania), New Zealand, and New Caledonia. The overall population is very small and threatened by loss of habitat.
The Australian painted snipe (Rostratula australis) is a type of migratory wading bird found sporadically in wetland areas across Australia. It is threatened by water drainage and diversion.
The malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) is a stocky, grounddwelling bird that was formerly widespread in semi-arid mallee scrub across southern Australia. As a species it is dependent for both food and reproduction on more or less untouched open forests, and is thought to have lost about half its historical range during the twentieth century alone. The male builds large pyramidal nesting mounds of decomposing leaves and grass which he then covers with sand, gravel, and debris. The eggs are deposited within these mounds, but foxes and dogs dig them out, destroying many clutches. Drought, grazing by sheep and bush fires have also had a serious impact. It is now largely reduced to three main population pockets.
The grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos) is a widely but sparsely distributed species fromthe arid and semi-arid areas of Australia. It is threatened by habitat destruction and degradation.
The buff-breasted buttonquail (Turnix olivii) is known only from a few localities within the Cape York Peninsula of north-eastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland).
The night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is one of the world’s most mysterious and elusive birds. A smallnocturnal species first described by John Gould in 1861, it inhabits the remote arid and semi-arid inland regions of Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, and Queensland. Although it is possible that it persists throughout much of this area, sightings have always been scanty and anecdotal. There were no confirmed reports at all between 1912 and 1979, leading to speculation that it was extinct. Sightings since have been extremely rare and total population size remain unknown, although it is likely less than 250.
The swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) is confined to southeastern Australia, where it breeds in a few areas of Tasmania during the summer and migrates north to south-eastern South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and south-eastern Queensland in winter. It is threatened mainly by nest predation in Tasmania by introduced suger gliders (Petaurus breviceps) and by loss of habitat.
Coxen’s fig parrot (Cyclopsitta coxeni) is a small species known only from four small subpopulations in eastern Australia (south-eastern Queensland and extreme northeastern New South Wales). It appears to have historically declined due to the widepread clearance of rainforest. Its small range coupled with a paucity of recent sightings suggests a total population of a few hundred at most.
The orange-bellied parakeet (Neophema chrysogaster) is a small species that was formerly found over a wide area of southern Australia. Habitat destruction and commercial trapping had already reduced it by the mid-twentieth century to just 50–70, but the total rose to around 150 by 2005. Unfortunately, the population has suffered a drastic decline since then for reasons that are unclear (although most likely due to disease and drought). The birds are currently known to breed only at a single site in south-western Tasmania, from where they migrate to coastal south-eastern South Australia and Victoria for the winter. A captive breeding programme has been established and currently numbers 300–350.
The short-billed black cockatoo (Zanda latirostris) is found in woodlands, shrublands, and heathlands in southwestern Australia (Western Australia), where it is threatened by loss of habitat.
The regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) was formerly common throughout eastern and south-eastern Australia but is now found patchily in south-eastern Queensland, eastern New South, Wales and Victoria. It is threatened mainly by loss of habitat.
The painted honeyeater (Grantiella picta) is found widely but patchily across eastern and northern Australia, where it is threatened by loss of habitat.
The helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) has suffered greatly from habitat destruction, and is now confined to a small area in south-eastern Australia near Melbourne.
The rufous scrub-bird (Atrichornis rufescens) is divided into two subspecies. The northern rufous scrub-bird (A. r. rufescens) and the southern rufous scrub-bird (A. r. ferrieri) are both confined to a few small areas of montane forest in coastal south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales, but historically ranged further into the surrounding lowlands. By the mid-twentieth century both had been on the brink of extinction due to loss of habitat, and while their status is generally improved populations remain small and continue to fluctuate.
The eastern bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus) is a type of ground-dwelling, semi-flightless passerine bird divided into two subspecies. The southern eastern bristlebird (D. b. brachypterus) is confined to a few localities in coastal New South Wales and eastern Victoria, where in 2011 the total population was thought to be less than 50. The northern eastern bristlebird (D. b. monoides) is known from a few isolated localities in south-eastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales. Both are mainly threatened by bushfires.
The even-scaled earless dragon (Tympanocryptis uniformis) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1948 from an imprecise locality in northern Australia (‘near Darwin’). Numerous targeted searches have so far failed to rediscover the species.
The Corangamite water skink (Eulamprus tympanum marnieae) is a semi-aquatic subspecies confined to a few scattered localities in south-eastern Australia (southern Victoria). The broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) is a venomous species confined to a few areas of sandstone outcropping near Sydney in New South Wales.
Several semi-aquatic frogs of the genus Litoria are seriously threatened by loss of habitat, introduced predatory fish, and possibly chytridiomycosis. The Nyakala frog (L. nyakalensis), Day’s frog (L. dayi), Liem’s frog (L. rheocola), and the waterfall frog (L. nannotis) are all confined to a small area of coastal northeastern Queensland centred on Cairns. The green-thighed frog (L. brevipalmata) is found in coastal areas of south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales. The yellowspotted frog (L. castanea), as currently defined, appears to be confined to two disjunct localities in north-eastern and southeastern New South Wales. Spencer’s frog (L. spenceri) is found patchily in south-eastern New South Wales and north-eastern Victoria. The green and golden frog (L. aurea) is found in coastal New South Wales and eastern Victoria, with introduced populations on North Island, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu. The growling frog (L. raniformis) remains widespread in south-eastern South Australia, southern New South Wales, Victoria and parts of Tasmania, with additional introduced populations throughout much of New Zealand, but has undergone a massive population decline.
The Alexandria frog (Uperoleia orientalis) is known only from a few specimens collected in 1940 from a swamp in north-central Northern Territory. The Jabiru frog (U. arenicola) is known only from a small area in north-western Northern Territory, on the western edge of the Arhhem Land escarpment.
The sunset frog (Spicospina flammocaerulea) is confined to a few isolated peat swamps in the extreme south-western corner of Western Australia.
The yellow-bellied frog (Geocrinia vitellina) and the whitebellied frog (G. alba) are each confined to a small area of wetlands in extreme south-western Western Australia.
The red-crowned brood frog (Pseudophryne australis) is confined to a small area of sandstone escarpments near Sydney, New South Wales.
The silver-eyed barred frog (Mixophyes balbus) is a semiaquatic species from the eastern slopes of the Great Divide of south-eastern Australia (New South Wales and Victoria). It has been extripated from many areas where it was formerly common. Fleay’s barred frog (M. fleayi) and the giant barred frog (M. iteratus) are both confined to a small area of eastern Australia (south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales), where they are threatened by loss of habitat. The sharpsnout torrent frog (Taudactylus acutirostris), the Kroombit Tops torrent frog (T. pleione), and the Eungella torrent frog (T. eungellensis) are all confined to rainforest fragments in central-eastern coastal Queensland, where they are seriously threatened by loss of habitat, introduced species, and possibly chytridiomycosis.
Mountains and Highlands
Australia consists mainly of lowland deserts and savannas with the notable exception of the eastern coast, where the Great Dividing Range predominates. For long stretches these mountains plunge straight into the Pacific Ocean, but here and there they slope gently down, leaving room for a lowland coastal strip sometimes 160 km wide. This lowland belt in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria contains a high proportion of the entire population of Australia, and is often the only part of the continent a casual visitor sees. Indeed, often Australia is identified with this well-known narrow strip of land and the extensive grasslands and deserts, while the mountains are forgotten. Yet these alpine regions are invariably quite close to the largest towns and cities and are among the continent’s most characteristic and splendid natural features. From tropical Queensland to the subtropical belts of New South Wales and Victoria they form a massive barrier of granite, sandstone, and basalt between the Pacific in the east and the vast plains in the west. It is also a boundary between climates and vegetation. From the east humid winds blow and from the west desert winds, while in the southern part, the Australian Alps, hurricanes often in conjunction with cyclones from Antarctica storm over the range. These climatic factors have given the Great Dividing Range a rich variety of natural environments, many of them not found elsewhere on the continent. Other, smaller highland areas are scattered all over the continent, from the Hamersley and Wunaamin Miliwundi ranges in Western Australia and the MacDonnell Range in the deserts of the Northern Territory, to the Musgrave and Flinders ranges in South Australia. Taken together, as in other parts of the world, they often serve as a last refuge for threatened species.
The Great Dividing Range
The Great Dividing Range (also known as the Eastern Highlands) is Australia’s most substantial mountain chain and the third longest land-based range in the world. It stretches more than 3500 km from Dauan Island off the north-eastern tip of Queensland, running the entire length of the eastern coastline through New South Wales before finally turning west and fading into the central plain of western Victoria. It varies in width from about 160 to 300 km. In terms of vegetation the northern areas are dominated by tropical and subtropical rainforest, being replaced in the east and south-east by temperate broadleaf and mixed forests dominated by Eucalyptus. A few areas of temperate rainforest are also to be found in eastern New South Wales.
The Mount Claro rock wallaby (Petrogale sharmani) is confined to the Seaview and Coane Ranges in coastal northeastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland).
The northern bettong (Bettongia tropica) is a type of ‘rat kangaroo’ confined to three localities in far north-eastern Queensland, specifically the Lamb Range, the Mount Carbine Tableland, and the Coane Range. It may also survive on the Mount Windsor Tableland.
The silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) is a mouse-like marsupial known only from Kroombit Tops National Park in south-eastern Queensland.
Several semi-aquatic frogs of the genus Litoria endemic to the Great Dividing Range are seriously threatened by loss of habitat, introduced predatory fish, and possibly chytridiomycosis. The armoured frog (L. lorica) is known only from four montane localities in coastal north-eastern Queensland. Last seen in 1991 and thought to be extinct, a small population was rediscovered in 2008. The peppered frog (L. piperata) was historically known from five streams draining the east of the Northern Tablelands in north-eastern New South Wales. Assuming that it still survives at all, the total population is thought to be less than 50. Davies’ frog (L. daviesae) is confined to a few localities on the eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range in north-eastern New South Wales. The New England frog (L. subglandulosa) is confined to the eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range in north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland. The Booroolong frog (L. booroolongensis) historically ranged throughout the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales, but has now disappeared from most areas. The southern gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) was restricted to the Blackall and Conondale Ranges of coastal eastern Australia (south-eastern Queensland). It has not been recorded since 1981, and is now considered to be extinct.
The magnificent brood frog (Pseudophryne covacevichae) is confined to a small area of north-eastern Queensland centered on the Glen Gorden Volcanics. Pengilley’s brood frog (P. pengilleyi) is confined to two small areas near Canberra in south-eastern New South Wales. Both are threatened by habitat destruction.
Several frogs of the genus Philoria are threatened by habitat degradation. The red and yellow mountain frog (P. kundagungan) and Loveridge’s mountain frog (P. loveridgei) are both confined to small areas in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales. The sphagnum mountain frog (P. sphagnicolus) and Pugh’s mountain frog (P. pughi) are both confined to a small area of north-eastern New South Wales. The Richmond Range mountain frog (P. richmondensis) is known for certain only from three localities within the Richmond and Yabbra ranges in north-eastern New South Wales.
Several species of rainforest frog (Cophixalus) are threatened by habitat degradation and wildfires. The elegant rainforest frog (C. concinnus) is confined to Thornton Peak in coastal north-eastern Queensland. McDonald’s rainforest frog (C. mcdonaldi) is confined to Bowling Green Bay National Park on Mount Elliott, south-east of Townsville in coastal north-eastern Queensland. The Black Mountain rainforest frog (C. saxatilis) is confined to Black Mountain National Park south of Cooktown in coastal north-eastern Queensland, where it lives in caverns formed by large boulders. The Woowoonooran rainforest frog (C. neglectus) is confined to Woowoonooran National Park between Cairns and Innisfail in coastal north-eastern Queensland. The tapping rainforest frog (C. aenigma) is known from the Mount Carbine Tableland, Thornton Uplands, Finnigan Uplands, and Bakers Blue Mountain in north-eastern Queensland.
The Mount Glorious torrent frog (Taudactylus diurnus) historically occurred in disjunctive subpopulations in the Blackall, Conondale, and D’Aguilar Ranges of coastal eastern Australia (south-eastern Queensland). In the early 1970s it was considered to be relatively common, but it declined quickly and dramatically over the next few years and has not been oberved in the wild since 1979. It is now considered to be extinct, although the reason remains a mystery. The tinkling torrent frog (T. rheophilus) is confined to five mountaintops in coastal north-eastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland). The species has undergone a significant population decline, most likely due to chytridiomycosis.
The giant burrowing frog (Heleioporus australiacus) is confined to the lower eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales and Victoria.
The McIlwraith Range
The McIlwraith Range is a rugged granite plateau located on the Cape York Peninsula in far north-eastern Australia (northeastern Queensland).
The long-necked northern leaf-tailed gecko (Orraya occultus) is confined to the McIlwraith Range.
The McIlwraith rainforest frog (Cophixalus peninsularis) is known only from the McIlwraith Range.
The Melville Range
The Melville Range is located on the Cape York Peninsula in far north-eastern Australia (northern Queensland).
The Melville leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius eximius) is known only from a few specimens collected from a single locality within the Melville Range.
The Melville shadeskink (Saproscincus saltus) is confined to the highest ridge within the Melville Range.
The Melville rainforest frog (Cophixalus petrophilus) is confined to two disjunct boulder fields a few kilometres apart within the Melville Range.
The Clarke Range
The Clarke Range is located in coastal north-eastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland).
The northern gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus vitellinus) was discovered in 1984 in the rainforests of the Clarke Range. It seems to have disappeared within a year, never to be recorded again despite extensive efforts to locate it.
The Mount Carbine Tableland
The Mount Carbine Tableland is a plateau located in northeastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland).
The Carbine rainforest frog (Cophixalus monticola) is confined to a small area of the Mount Carbine Tableland.
The Paluma Range
The Paluma Range is located in coastal north-eastern Australia (north-eastern Queensland). It is protected within Paluma Range National Park.
The Gulbaru leaf-tailed gecko (Phyllurus gulbaru) is confined to a few isolated populations in Patterson Gorge, at the extreme southern end of the Paluma Range.
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are located in south-eastern Australia (eastern New South Wales).
The Blue Mountains water skink (Eulamprus leuraensis) is a semi-aquatic species confined to a small area so-called ‘hanging swamps’ west of Sydney. It is threatened by mining operations and bushfires.
The Australian Alps
The Australian Alps are located in south-eastern Australia (eastern Victoria, south-eastern New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory).
The mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus) was long known only from fossil material and thought to be extinct until 1966, when a living specimen was discovered on Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps (the southern part of the Australian Alps). In 1969 a colony was found near the treeline in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales. Since then, two more isolated populations have been discovered, one between Mount Bogong and Mount Higginbotham, and the other at Mount Buller, both in Victoria.
The Snowy Mountains are located in south-eastern New South Wales. They are the highest mountains in Australia, with Mount Kosciusko the highest peak.
The corroboree brood frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) was considered to be relatively common within its historically small distribution as recently as the 1970s, but has since suffered massive declines. It is now confined to a few fragmented populations totalling less than 200 within Kosciuszko National Park.
The Central Highlands
The Central Highlands are located in south-eastern Australia (east-central Victoria).
Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) is a highly specialized non-gliding species almost entirely confined to small pockets of alpine ash, mountain ash, and snow gum forests north-east of Melbourne, with an additional isolated subpopulation occupying a low-elevation swamp forest south-west of the main range. Historically common within the areas it inhabited, the species is nevertheless elusive. It had not been discovered until 1867, and was long known only from five specimens, the last of which was collected in 1909. From then on it was feared extinct, a victim of habitat destruction and the devastating Black Friday bushfires of 1939. However, in April 1961 one was spotted in the forests near Cambarville, and an individual was captured soon after. Additional searches resulted in the location of a colony near Marysville, and others were found in the years that followed. The combination of regrowth and the many large, dead trees (for nesting and shelter) from the 1939 fires allowed the population to expand to an estimated 7500 by the early 1980s. The population then began to decline sharply due to a habitat bottleneck. The Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 destroyed 43 per cent of the species’ remaining habitat and halved the wild population to just 1500.
The Baw Baw Plateau
The Baw Baw Plateau is located in south-eastern Australia (south-eastern Victoria). It is protected within Baw Baw National Park.
Frost’s mountain frog (Philoria frosti) is confined to alpine heathland on the Baw Baw Plateau, where it has declined considerably in recent years due to infectious chytridiomycosis fungus. A captive breeding programme has recently been undertaken.
The Macdonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges are a 644-km long series of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs in central Australia (south-central Northern Territory).
The central rock rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus) has exhibited a very marked decline in both range and abundance since the European settlement of Australia, and is now confined to a few localities within the western MacDonnell Ranges. The main threats are introduced predators and habitat degradation.
Lowland Tropical and Subtropical Rainforests
Deforestation in north-eastern Australia has been extensive, and most tropical and subtropical rainforest is now associated with the Great Dividing Range. Surviving patches of distinctive lowland rainforest are still to be found, however. Of these, the largest and most important is the Daintree Rainforest on the north-eastern coast of Queensland.
The mahogany glider (Petaurus gracilis) is a cryptic and elusive species that had been lost to science for over a hundred years until its rediscovery in 1989. It is restricted to small areas of coastal lowland rainforest in north-eastern Queensland.
The Kuranda frog (Ranoidea myola) is confined to a very small area of north-eastern coastal Queensland north of Cairns. The Cape Melville frog (R. andiirrmalin) is confined to a few localities in north-eastern Queensland. Both are threatened by loss of habitat and chytridiomycosis.
Zweifel’s rainforest frog (Cophixalus zweifeli) is confined to a small area within Cape Melville National Park in northeastern coastal Queensland, where it lives in boulder fields among and adjacent to rainforest.
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub
Mediterranean forests, woodlands and scrub are to be found in southern Australia (south-western and southern Western Australia, southern Southern Australia, northern Victoria, and south-western and central New South Wales).
The brush-tailed bettong or woylie (Bettongia penicillata) was once a common species within eastern Australia, where it still exists locally in New South Wales and Victoria. The nominate form (B. p. penicillata) is now extinct, while the south-western subspecies (B. p. ogilbyi) survives only in a small population in south-western Western Australia.
The freckled marsupial mouse or dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis) was widespread during the nineteenth century, but declined thereafter owing to the predations of feral foxes and cats. It was thought to have become extinct in the 1930s, until rediscovered at Cheyne Beach on the southern coast of Western Australia in 1967. Since then other populations have been found in the Torndirrup, Waychinicup, and Fitzgerald River national Parks and the Arpenteur Nature Reserve. In 1985 it was discovered as well on Boullanger and Whitlock islands in Jurien Bay. The species has also been introduced to Escape Island in Jurien Bay and to other protected areas on the mainland.
The sooty dunnart (Sminthopsis fuliginosus) was a mouselike marsupial known only from specimens collected during the 1840s from south-western Australia, and now most likely extinct.
Gould’s mouse (Pseudomys gouldii) is known from living specimens as well as subfossil remains collected in southwestern Western Australia, eastern South Australia, and New South Wales. Last collected in the 1850s, it was likely driven extinct by feral cats and habitat degradation. In 2021, however, a genetic study appeared to indicate that the species was actually conspecific with Field’s mouse (P. fieldi), previously discussed, which survives on a few small islands off the coast of Western Australia.
The western ground parrot (Pezoporus flaviventris) was formerly widespread on coastal heaths and offshore islands, but is today found only in some swampy areas of the southern coastlands of Western Australia. Here again altered habitat, brush fires, intensive hunting (because its flesh was much esteemed), predation from foxes and domestic cats were more than the species could withstand. It is now one of the world’s rarest birds.
The noisy scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus) is a small passerine bird that lives in densely vegetated, eucalyptdominated gullies on the southern coast of Western Australia. Destruction of its habitat led to such a decline in its numbers that it was considered extinct as early as 1889. In 1961, however, a population of about fifty birds was rediscovered in the Mount Gardner area, about 40 km east of Albany. After a well-publicized battle with land developers a small protected area was ultimately established for the species there, and as a result of intensive conservation work over the succeeding decades both the range and numbers have increased, but fires remain a threat.
The black-throated whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis) is divided into two subspecies. The western heath black-throated whipbird (P. n. nigrogularis) is confined to a small patch of scrubland in coastal south-western Australia (Western Australia), having disappeared from large parts of former range due to land clearance. The western mallee blackthroated whipbird (P. n. oberon) survives in a few isolated populations in coastal south-western Australia (Western Australia). The white-bellied whipbird (P. leucogaster) is also divided into two subspecies. The nominate form (P. l. leucogaster) occurs in scattered populations across north-western Victoria and southern South Australia.
The rufous bristlebird (Dasyornis broadbenti) is a thrushlike, largely terrestrial bird that, as a species, is still relatively widespread in south-eastern coastal Australia. One subspecies is now extinct and will be discussed below. Of the remaining two, the Coorong rufous bristlebird (D. b. broadbenti) occurs in near-coastal habitats from Port Fairy, Victoria to the mouth of the Murry River in south-eastern South Australia. The Otways rufous bristlebird (D. b. caryochrous) was formerly thought to be largely confined to the coast between Peterborough and Point Addis in western Victoria, but is now known to occur extensively within the Otway Range. Subtropical Mediterranean Forests and Woodlands Areas of subtropical Eucalyptus forest were formerly found throughout south-western and southern Western Australia. Sadly, their destruction has been pronounced and more than half of the state’s forests are under mining tenements.
The western ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis) already had a limited distribution in south-western Western Australia when if first became known in the 1880s. Considered to be already near extinction by the early 1960s, by the 1980s it was largely confined to the coastal strip between Bunbury and Albany, where it occurs in habitat fragments mainly on private lands. Efforts at translocation to protected areas have met with little success.
Baudin’s black cockatoo (Zanda baudinii) is confined to heavily forested areas of south-western Western Australia, where it is threatened by loss of habitat.
Mallee scrub is a semi-arid region located in southern Australia (Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria). The vegetation is dominated by mallee eucalypts, which are rarely over 6 m in height, while the understorey consists of hummock grasses and shrubs. Most of it has been destroyed since the arrival of Europeans, and today the largest remaining areas are to be found on the fringes of the Great Victoria Desert and in the Murray–Darling drainage.
The black-eared miner (Manorina melanotis) is a type of honeyeater historically found throughout the mallee scrub region. Its range and numbers declined steadily over the twentienth century due to loss of habitat and interbreeding with the related yellow-throated miner (M. flavigula), and the species is now confined to two small, disjunct areas of south-eastern South Australia and a third in north-western Victoria.
The mallee emuwren (Stipiturus mallee) has a severely fragmented distribution in mallee scrub regions of southeastern South Australia and north-western Victoria.
The red-lored whistler (Pachycephala rufogularis) is a type of passerine bird confined to mallee areas of eastern South Australia and north-western Victoria, with isolated outlying populations in New South Wales. Large parts of its historically much wider range have been lost to habitat conversion, although in recent years the greater threat has been bushfires.
The coastal heathlands of southern and south-western Australia are characterized by dense, low shrubs with scattered, twisted trees.
Gilbert’s potoroo (Potorous gilbertii) is a small, nocturnal macropod currently thought to be Australia’s most endangered marsupial. First discovered in 1840, it was even then intensively hunted by Aborigines who could kill a great number in just a few hours. However, it was predation by introduced red foxes and feral cats that has been the greatest threat. Thought to have gone extinct in the 1970s until its unexpected rediscovery in 1994 in the Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve, Western Australia, it has since been successfully introduced to Bald Island Nature Reserve as well as to Waychinicup National Park. The total population in 2012 was estimated at 100, but this was approximately halved in 2015, mostly due to bushfires.
The western bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris) is endemic to the coastal heathlands of south-western Western Australia, where it was at one time thought to be extinct until a single bird was collected in 1945. The nominate subpecies (D. l. longirostris) was subsequently found in a handful of scattered localities, mainly within protected areas. The total population of around 1000 continues to be threatened by wildfires. The western rufous bristlebird (D. b. litoralis) was confined to a small stretch of south-western coastal Western Australia, where it was last reliably recorded in 1908 (although unconfirmed reports continued up until 1940). It is thought to have been driven to extinction by the deliberate burning of its habitat to create pastureland.
Savannas and Grasslands
Along with deserts and subdeserts, the scrub and grasslands, ranging from steppe-like plains to true savannas, occupy the largest part of Australia. In a belt of varying width the scrub and grasslands almost entirely surround the deserts of the interior, but they are also found along some of the coasts, particularly in the northern parts of the continent. The broadest expanses of grassland are in eastern Australia west of the Great Dividing Range and east of the desert. There are two main types of scrub: the mulga scrub and the mallee scrub, the former dominated by mulga (Acacia aneura), while the latter is formed mostly of dwarf eucalypts, some shrubs, and sclerophyllous grass. Many former savannas have been converted into cultivated fields and grazing areas for livestock. Some grasslands still show their original vegetation, dominated by feather grass (Stipa), wallaby grass (Danthonia), and kangaroo grass (Themeda australis). The latter, notably nutritious, was once of great importance to Australia’s rich animal world, apparently playing the same role as its relative T. triandra does for many species of antelopes on the savannas of Africa. It was to such rich grassland that a multitude of grazing marsupials as well as many birds had adapted. The product of millions of years of natural selection, they roamed the plains freely and in harmony with the vegetation. Suddenly, with the arrival of the Europeans, the whole system was altered and disaster followed for many living things. Numerous smaller marsupials disappeared forever, destroyed not only by introduced predators and competition with sheep but also directly by human hunters. In many areas nutritious plants disappeared and were replaced by less-palatable species like spinifex.
The plains wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is a quail-like ground bird historically found on the grasslands of northeastern South Australia, west-central Queensland, northcentral Victoria, and southern New South Wales. It has declined dramatically due to hunting pressure, drought, and introduced foxes. In 2015 the total population was estimated at less than 1000.
Tropical and Subtropical Savannas and Grasslands
Tropical and subtropical savannas, grasslands, and shrublands, often interspersed with areas of open or closed dry forest, are to be found across much of northern Australia (northern Western Australia, northern and eastern Northern Territory, northern and eastern Queensland, and parts of north-eastern New South Wales).
The Kakadu pebble mouse (Pseudomys calabyi) is known only from a small area of Northern Territory, including Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park.
The Arnhem leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros inornatus) is known only from four roost sites within Kadadu National Park in north-central coastal Australia (Northern Territory), none of which are currently known to be occupied owing to human disturbance.
The paradise parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus) is only known with certainty from areas of open savanna woodland and shrubby grassland in south-eastern Queensland, although it may perhaps have ranged a little more widely. Locally common although generally rare during the nineteenth century, it declined rapidly due to excessive hunting for commercial purposes, perhaps combined with other factors such as introduced cats (the species nested exclusively in termite mounds). It was thought to have become extinct as a result of a drought in 1902, until rediscovered in 1918. The last confirmed observation was in 1928. A few credible reports continued into the 1930s and 1940s, and it was widely believed, although without much evidence, to have survived in small numbers up to the 1970s. There was a further, doubtful report made in 1990, and nothing since.
A related species, the golden-shouldered parrot (P. chrysopterygius), survives in the central and southern Cape York Peninsula of Queensland. It has been eliminated from most of its historic range, at first due mainly to illegal trapping for use as a cage bird. In more recent years loss of habitat has become the primary threat. The total population is estimated at around 3750 in two main subpopulations, and declining.
The partridge pigeon (Geophaps smithii) is divided into two subspecies, both of which are declining due to habitat degradation. The Top End partridge pigeon (G. s. smithii) is now confined to northern coastal Northern Territory and the Tiwi Islands, but was formerly more widespread. The Kimberley partridge pigeon (G. s. blaauwi) is found in remote areas of extreme north-eastern Western Australia, where there are few recent records.
The black grasswren (Amytornis housei) is very rare and has been seen only a few times in the Kimberleys of northeastern Western Australia, where it is confined to hummock grasslands in especially rugged sandstone environments. The white-throated grasswren (A. woodwardi) is confined to a small area of northern coastal Northern Territory in and around the Arnhem Land sandstone massif, where it is threatened by habitat destruction and degradation. The Carpentarian grasswren (A. dorotheae) is known from a few localities within the hills of north-western Queensland and north-eastern Northern Territory.
Weigel’s toad (Notaden weigeli) is known only from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia (north-eastern Western Australia).
The marbled frog (Uperoleia marmorata) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1841 from an undefined locality in northern Australia (north-eastern Western Australia). The Darwin frog (U. daviesae) is known only from a small area located south of Darwin in northern Australia (Northern Territory).
Tropical and Subtropical Wooded Savannas
Areas of both open and closed tropical and subtropical dry forest, interspersed with savanna, are to be found in northern Australia (Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Queensland), including offshore islands.
The northern brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale pirata) is a small, arboreal, carnivorous marsupial confined to a small area of northern Australia’s Top End (Northern Territory), including Melville Island. The species formerly occurred as well in north-western Western Australia, but there have been no recent records from there.
The fawn marsupial mouse (Antechinus bellus) is a type of small carnivorous marsupial found patchily in northern Australia (Northern Territory), including Melville Island. It is threatened by habitat destruction and predation by feral cats.
The Crystal Creek two-lined dragon (Diporiphora convergens) is a type of agamid lizard known only from a single specimen collected from Crystal Creek, in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia (north-eastern Western Australia).
Allan’s lerista (Lerista allanae) and the Mount Cooper striped lerista (L. vittata) are fossorial lizards each known only from a small area of eastern coastal Queensland. Both are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation.
Temperate Savannas and Grasslands
Temperate savannas, grasslands, and shrublands, often interspersed with areas of open or closed dry forest, are found in eastern and south-eastern Australia (south-central Queensland, central and south-western New South Wales, and northern Victoria).
The toolache wallaby (Notamacropus greyi) historically lived within open country in near-coastal areas of extreme southwestern Victoria to the upper south-east of South Australia. In the early nineteenth century this extraordinarily beautiful species was still common within its restricted range, but was becoming quite rare by the 1870s owing to loss of habitat, predation by introduced foxes, and in particular hunting. It is reported that hunters had become eager to kill the last survivors for their pelts or as trophies. By 1910 it had been reduced to a few scattered populations and in 1924 only one small group was known to survive, on Konetta Station about halfway between the towns of Robe and Penola in South Australia. An attempt was made to translocate some of the animals to a sanctuary on Kangaroo Island, but this failed. The last known individual, a doe that had been rescued from dogs, died in captivity in Robe in 1939.
The grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla) is a type of small lizard known only from two disjunct areas of treeless grassland in south-eastern Australia (south-eastern New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory).
A population at least formerly occurred as well in southcentral Victoria, but has not been recorded there since 1969 despite extensive survey work and has most likely been extirpated. It is worth noting that a recent revision seems to indicate that the two populations outside of Victoria actually represent different taxa; if so, this species may well be extinct.
The pygmy blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua adelaidensis) is confined to a small area of south-eastern South Australia, where it is was long believed extinct until its rediscovery in 1992.
The striped legless lizard (Delma impar) is found patchily within remnant habitat in southern New South Wales, Victoria and the Australia Capital Territory.
Sloane’s froglet (Crinia sloanei) is confined to southeastern Australia (central New South Wales and north-central Victoria), where it is associated with temporary pools within grassland areas.
Deserts and Shrublands
Deserts and dry shrublands are to be found across central and southern Western Australia, central and southern Northern Territory, most of Southern Australia except for the coastal south, north-western New South Wales, and south-western Queensland. Named deserts cover roughly 18 per cent of the Australian mainland. However, about 35 per cent of the continent receives so little rain that it, too, is effectively desert. Vast plains of gravel and stone with a minimum of vegetation, as well as semi-arid deserts with sparse tussocks of sclerophyllous grass, chiefly spinifex (Triodia), occupy the lowlands of the interior central-west. After the sporadic rains, some areas explode into life but it is, in general, of short duration. Of all Australian habitats it is the deserts that have been the least modified by man, but this does not mean that desert animals are not endangered. Many desert vertebrates have become extinct or are extremely rare.
The Lake Mackay hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes asomatus) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1932 between Mount Farewell and Lake Mackay in central-western Northern Territory. It became extinct sometime during the midtwentieth century.
The lesser bilby or yallara (Macrotis leucura) was a type of medium-sized marsupial that inhabited the central deserts of Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, and south-western Queensland. The last specimen was collected near Koonchera Dune in north-eastern South Australia in 1931, although a skull of unknown age was found south-east of Alice Springs, near the edge of the Simpson Desert, in 1967. Aboriginal records indicate that populations may have survived into the 1960s. Another species, the greater bilby (M. lagotis), formerly occurred over 70 per cent of the arid and semi-arid mainland of Australia south of 18°S latitude. It disappeared from the Flinders Ranges in the 1920s, from northern South Australia in the 1930s, and from New South Wales and southern South Australia by the 1950s at the latest. It declined dramatically in south-western Australia in the 1920 and 1930s, although it may have persisted there until the 1980s. Today it occurs patchily in north-western Australia, with wild subpopulations now restricted predominantly to the Tanami Desert (Northern Territory), and in the Gibson, Little Sandy, and Great Sandy deserts and parts of the Pilbara (Western Australia). There is an additional, isolated pocket in central Australia (south-western Queensland). There is a large captive population, and the species has been reintroduced in recent years into suitably predator-free protected areas on the mainland as well as on Thistle Island, South Australia.
The desert rat-kangaroo (Caloprymnus campestris) originally occurred in north-eastern South Australia and adjacent south-eastern Queensland. The last confirmed record came in 1935 from near Ooroowilanie, east of Lake Eyre. There were unconfirmed sightings between 1957 and 2011, but the species is generally considered to be extinct.
The Nullarbor dwarf bettong (Bettongia pusilla) is known only from subfossil material originating from caves within the Nullarbor Plain in south-western South Australia, but is believed to have survived into historic times. The desert bettong (B. anhydra) is known from a single modern specimen (a damaged skull) collected in 1933 from a freshly dead animal east of Lake Mackay within the Tanami Desert, in centraleastern Western Australia. Subfossil material is known from Stegamite Cave in south-eastern Western Australia. As these localities are widely separated the species is presumed to have once had a relatively large distribution.
The brush-tailed marsupial rat or kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei) is a small carnivorous marsupial found in the stony desert areas of the Lake Eyre basin. Two subspecies are recognized. The northern brush-tailed marsupial rat (D. b. byrnei) is found in south-western Queensland, having been extirpated from adjacent Northern Territory. The southern brush-tailed marsupial rat (D. b. pallidior) is confined to a small area of north-eastern South Australia. Both have suffered declines in areas where livestock grazing is intense, in particular near waterholes used by stock, and are additionally threatened by feral cat predation.
The lesser stick-nest rat (Leporillus apicalis) historically occurred in great numbers across central Australia, with many early explorers commenting on the abundance and large size of stick-nests. By the early twentieth century, however, it was already considered rare, due mainly to predation by feral cats. There have been no confirmed reports since 1933 and the species is probably extinct, although it is possible that it may persist in small numbers in remote areas.
The plains mouse (Pseudomys australis) is a small rodent formerly widespread within the arid and semi-arid regions of Australia, extending to coastal or near-coastal South Australia, the Nullarbor Plain area of south-eastern Western Australia, western New South Wales, central and south-western Queensland, and probably north-western Victoria. Habitat degradation due to grazing, introduced predators and drought have all contributed to a significant decline. The species has not been recorded from New South Wales since 1936, or from Western Australia since 1969. In Queensland it has only been reported once since 1936, when remains were discovered in owl pellets in Diamantina National Park, and in far northeastern South Australia the only specimen reported since 1969 was in 1998 in the Simpson Desert. All told it now appears to be largely confined to the western gibber plains of the Lake Eyre Basin in south-central Australia, where populations are highly fragmented.
The short-tailed hopping mouse (Notomys amplus) was, to judge by subfossil material, at one time found across northeastern South Australia, south-eastern Northern Territory, and parts of Western Australia. Only two complete specimens were ever collected, however, both from a small area around Charlotte Waters, near Alice Springs in Northern Territory. Last recorded in 1896, it is thought to have been driven extinct by habitat destruction and introduced predators. The longtailed hopping mouse (N. longicaudatus) is known only from a handful of specimens, the first of which were collected by English naturalist and explorer John Gilbert in 1843 in Northern Territory and Western Australia. Others were later collected in north-western New South Wales, indicating that the species historically had a wide distribution within the arid interior of Australia. It was last recorded in 1901–02 and presumed to have become extinct within a few decades thereafter, although a skull fragment found in an owl pellet in 1977 indicates that it possibly survived much longer in remote areas. Old records indicate that a surviving species, the dusky hopping mouse (N. fuscus), also occupied a large area of central Australia at one time, including parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Northern Territory, and South Australia. It now appears to be confined to a small number of localities on the South Australia–Queensland border area, and perhaps in some remote areas of Northern Territory.
The Eyrean grasswren (Amytornis goyderi) is an uncommon and cryptic species endemic to the arid regions of Central Australia. It had not been observed since its discovery in 1874 when a pair was at last found in 1931, near Lake Eyre. During the 1950s it was considered extinct until again rediscovered in 1962. Two more were collected in Queensland in 1976, and a follow-up expedition revealed a small population. In recent years it has come to be reliably known from the dune fields of the Simpson and Strzelecki deserts, where it favours areas of sandhill canegrass. Despite its small population and highly restricted habitat it is not thought to be presently at risk for extinction.
The great desert skink (Liopholis kintorei) is found patchily across a vast area of west-central Australia (north-eastern Western Australia, north-western South Australia, and southwestern Northern Territory). It is threatened mainly by loss of habitat and introduced predators.
Isolated Caves, Springs, and Pools
Australia has a considerable number of cave systems throughout the continent, many of which remain undiscovered or unexplored.
The cave-dwelling frog (Litoria cavernicola) is known only from caves and rocky areas in the sandstone gorges flanking the Mitchell Plateau, in the Kimberly region of north-western Australia (northern Western Australia).
The blind gudgeon (Milyeringa veritas) and the blind cave eel (Ophisternon candidum) are confined to subterranean waters in the caves of the Cape Range, north-western Western Australia.
The Great Artesian Basin
The Great Artesian Basin is the largest and deepest in the world. Located in north-eastern Australia, it underlies most of Queensland, south-eastern Northern Territory, northeastern South Australia, and northern New South Wales. In addition to providing the only source of freshwater for much of the inland parts of the continent, its above-ground, mostly seasonal manifestations are vitally important for wildlife, in particular waterfowl.
The Dalhousie Springs
The Dalhousie Springs are a group of over 60 natural artesian springs located on the western fringe of the Simpson Desert in northern South Australia. The water, which is highly mineralized, ranges in temperature from 38 to 43°C. Drilling has considerably reduced the flow rates over the past century.
The Dalhousie hardyhead (Craterocephalus dalhousiensis) and Glover’s hardyhead (C. gloveri) are both confined to the Dalhousie Springs.
The Dalhousie mogurnda (Mogurnda thermophila) is confined to the Dalhousie Springs.
The Dalhousie goby (Chlamydogobius gloveri) is confined to the Dalhousie Springs.
The Elizabeth Springs
The Elizabeth Springs are located in western Queensland.
The Elizabeth Springs goby (Chlamydogobius micropterus) is confined to the marshy pools of Elizabeth Springs.
The Edgbaston Springs
The Edgbaston Springs are a complex of small, shallow springs located on a former sheep and cattle property in centralwestern Queensland. They and the surrounding area are now protected by the Edgbaston Reserve.
The Edgbaston goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus) is confined to the Edgbaston Springs.
The red-finned blue-eye (Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis) is confined to the Edgbaston Springs.
Lakes, Rivers and Marshes
As a consequence of its very dry climate Australia has a poorly developed system of rivers, and indeed has the fewest number and the least run-off of any continent after Antarctica. Moreover, relatively few of its watercourses are permanent, with lakes and marshes varying in size in relation to the periods of rain and drought. Occasionally even large rivers may dry up entirely and their beds remain waterless for several years. A large proportion of rivers fade out before they even reach the sea, and erosion has led to the silting-up of waterholes and billabongs along inland rivers. Such conditions make it difficult for aquatic animals to survive. However, many species, particularly fishes, have solved the problem by developing an ability to aestivate for prolonged periods, as for instance the Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri), a ‘living fossil’ which has managed to exist for millions of years. Thus, these special climatic challenges combined with the long isolation of Australia have made its freshwater fishes unique in the same evolutionary sense as the eucalypts and marsupials. Many of them are now threatened, not only by man-made changes in their freshwater habitats but also by the introduction of numerous exotic fish species, which prey on or compete with the Australian ones.
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a unique egglaying mammal that lives in long burrows and forages for food on the bottom of rivers and streams with its sensitive, ducklike bill. During the nineteenth century it was extensively hunted for pelts, which was used in the making of rugs, and for a time seriously threatened. Long protected by law it is now once again widespread in eastern Australia from Queensland to Victoria, as well as on Tasmania and King Island. An additional, introduced population occurs on Kangaroo Island.
The Australian freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni) is a relatively small crocodilian from northern Australia that, for much of the twentieth century, was in danger of extinction due to overhunting for its skin. With better protection it has made a comeback, only to see its numbers start to decline once again due to ingestion of the poisonous, invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina). It is not currently considered to be threatened with extinction.
The western swamp turtle (Pseudemydura umbrina) is perhaps Australia’s rarest reptile. First described in 1839 from a specimen collected on the Swan Coastal Plain in Western Australia, it was not seen again for more than a century. Intensive clearing and drainage of the swamps north and south of Perth had already destroyed much of the available habitat of the species, and it had long been considered extinct when another individual was at last recorded in 1953. Fortunately, two small reserves were quickly established in the swamps where it had been found. Subsequent investigation revealed a population of around 300 turtles.
Mitchell’s water monitor (Varanus mitchelli) is confined to wetland areas throughout the northern parts of Western Australia, Northern Territory, and possibly far north-western Queensland. It is not known to occur on any offshore islands. Mertens’ water monitor (V. mertensii) is found in coastal and inland waters across much of northern Australia, from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, across the Top End of Northern Territory to the western side of the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. Both are seriously threatened by invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina), through poisoning after eating them.
The ornamental snake (Denisonia maculata) is a small, venomous species confined to ephemeral wetland areas of central-eastern Queensland.
The Magela hardyhead (Craterocephalus marianae) is confined to a small area of northern-flowing creeks and rivers on the Kakadu escarpment of Northern Territory.
The eastern freshwater cod (Maccullochella ikei) is a large, predatory fish that was historically fairly widely distributed within the Clarence, Richmond, and possibly Brisbane rivers of coastal north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland. By the 1930s, naturally occuring populations were probably near to extirpation within the Richmond and Brisbane rivers due to overfishing and habitat destruction, and by the 1970s the species was entirely confined to a small number of isolated tributaries within the Clarence River. Since then, legal protection and restocking with hatchery-bred individuals has resulted in a general increase in both abundance and distribution within the latter drainage, along with the reintroduction of several fragmented populations within the Richmond River.
The variegated pygmy perch (Nannoperca variegata) is known from the Ewens Ponds and Deep Creek, south-eastern South Australia, as well as from a few tributaries of the Glenelg River in south-western Victoria. The Yarra pygmy perch (N. obscura) is found patchily in the coastal drainages of southeastern Australia (south-eastern South Australia and Victoria). The Oxleyan pygmy perch (N. oxleyana) is confined to coastal eastern Australia (south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales), where it lives in dune lakes, ponds, creeks, and swamps. All are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation and from introduced fish species.
The Cairns rainbowfish (Cairnsichthys rhombosomoides) is confined to fragmented populations inhabiting shallow, fastflowing streams in north-eastern Queensland.
The Eacham rainbowfish (Melanotaenia eachamensis) was long thought to have been endemic to Lake Eacham in northeastern coastal Queensland, where it was extirpated by introduced predatory fish. It has since been rediscovered in the private collections of aquarists, and subsequently found to have a wider distribution within the Barron and Johnstone river systems.
The dwarf galaxias (Galaxiella pusilla) is confined to freshwater coastal wetlands in south-eastern Australia, specifically southern Victoria and Tasmania.
The honey blue-eye (Pseudomugil mellis) is confined to two disjunct areas in coastal central and south-eastern Queensland.
The Australian brook lamprey (Mordacia praecox) is confined to a few isolated coastal rivers in southern Queensland, New South Wales, and possibly eastern Victoria.
Lake Eyre is located in northern South Australia. A shallow, endorheic lake; on the rare occasions when it fills during the rainy season it is the largest in Australia. It contains the lowest natural point in Australia.
Cooper Creek is part of the Lake Eyre drainage system.
The Cooper Creek turtle (Emydura macqauarii emmotti) is confined to the Cooper Creek drainage.
The Cooper Creek catfish (Neosiluroides cooperensis) is confined to the Cooper Creek drainage.
The Fitzroy River
The Fitzroy River is located in north-eastern Australia (southcentral and south-eastern Queensland).
The Fitzroy River turtle (Rheodytes leukops) is confined to the Fitzroy River.
The leathery grunter (Scortum hillii) is a perch-like fish found patchily in streams and pools within the Fitzroy River drainage, where it is threatened by loss of habitat and pollution from mining operations.
The Mary River
The Mary River is located in south-eastern Queensland.
The Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) is confined to the Mary River drainage.
The Mary River cod (Maccullochella mariensis) is a large, predatory fish confined to the Mary River drainage, where it is threatened by habitat destruction and overfishing.
The Murray–Darling River Drainage
Located in central-eastern and south-eastern Australia, the Murray River is Australia’s longest. It rises on the western side of the Australian Alps and meanders some 2500 km through South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and southern Queensland. When combined with its major tributary the Darling River the total course extends to 3750 km.
Bell’s sawshelled turtle (Elseya bellii) is confined to the upper reaches of the Namoi, Gwydir, Macdonald, and Severn rivers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.
The trout cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) is a large, predatory species that was historically widespread and common within the Murray–Darling drainage, but has been much reduced by overfishing, habitat degradation and invasive trout species. Only a single wild, naturally occuring population remains, although there are number of self-sustaining introduced ones.
The Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica) is still found widely but patchily within the Murray–Darling drainage, but remains threatened by overfishing, siltation and dam construction, and disease.
The Murray hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis) was historically widespread and abundant within the middle and lower Murray River drainage, but has undergone a considerable decline due to habitat destruction and degradation and by introduced fish species. It is now confined to a few scattered localities.
The flathead galaxias (Galaxias rostratus) is currently known only from the southern Murray–Darling drainage in Victoria, where it is found patchily.
The Goulburn River
The Goulburn River is a perennial river located in eastcentral Victoria.
The barred galaxias (Galaxias fuscus) is confined to the Goulburn River, where it is seriously threatened by habitat degradation and introduced fish species.
Miscellaneous Lakes, Rivers, and Marshes
The Burdekin River is located in north-eastern coastal Queensland.
The small-headed grunter (Scortum parviceps) is a perch-like species known only from the upper Burdekin River.
The Manning River is located in north-eastern New South Wales.
The Manning River sawshelled turtle (Elseya purvisi) is confined to the Manning River drainage.
The Bellinger River is located in north-eastern New South Wales.
The Bellinger River sawshelled turtle (Elseya georgesi) is confined to the Bellinger River drainage.
Coasts and Satellite Islands
The primary threat to Australian coastal areas is development coupled with industrial pollution and the potential for oil spills. It is tragic that the eastern coast of Australia and the offshore islands, the richest in plants and animals, have been the most affected, although in recent years all islands and coasts have become vulnerable to exploitation and degradation.
The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is confined to south-western coastal Australia, from The Pages (an island group just east of Kangaroo Island) to Houtman Abrolhos on the western coast of Western Australia. Aborigines hunted the seals for subsistence purposes for thousands of years, and early European colonists also relied on them for food and other products. But it was not until sealers began to harvest them on a large scale during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that populations began to be seriously affected, eventually extirpating the species from areas around the Bass Strait and Tasmania. They are now protected by a variety of laws and no longer hunted, but have never quite recovered fully in numbers or reoccupied all of their former range.
The Barrow Island golden bandicoot (Isoodon auratus barrowensis) is confined to Augustus, Barrow, and Middle islands off the north-western coast of Australia (Western Australia).
Butler’s dunnart (Sminthopsis butleri) is a mouse-like marsupial known only from a small area of coastal northern Australia (north-eastern Western Australia) and from Bathurst and Melville islands (Northern Territory).
The water mouse (Xeromys myoides) is a little-known species found disjunctly in coastal regions of southern and eastern Australia (Northern Territory and Queensland) and southern New Guinea. It is threatened by loss of habitat.
The long-eared mouse (Pseudomys auritus), which lived along the edges of dry salt-water lagoons in South Australia, seems to have been exterminated more than 150 years ago. The New Holland mouse (P. novaehollandiae) was long known only from four specimens, the last of which was collected prior to 1887. Long considered extinct, in 1967 a fifth individual was found in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney. Other fragmented populations have since been found across south-eastern Australia in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Tasmania. It is threatened by the development of its coastal dune habitat.
The northern hopping mouse (Notomys aquilo) is known only from coastal Northern Territory (where the species has not been recorded in decades) and the island of Groote Eylandt.
The Providence petrel (Pterodroma solandri) is a small seabird that is widespread and common throughout much of the Tasman Sea and adjacent areas of the Pacific, but nests only on two mountaintops on Lord Howe Island and, marginally, on Phillip Island, a tiny islet off Norfolk Island. It historically bred on Norfolk Island as well, but was extirpated there by massive overharvesting for food during the late eighteenth century. The Australian Gould’s petrel (P. leucoptera leucoptera) ranges widely across both the Pacific and Southern oceans, but breeds only on a few small islands off the coast of New South Wales, primarily Cabbage Tree Island.
The hooded plover (Thinornis cucullatus) is a type of shorebird divided into two subspecies. The eastern hooded plover (T. c. cucullatus) is found in southern and south-eastern Australia (New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and a few nearby islands). The western hooded plover (T. c. tregellasi) occurs in south-western Australia (Western Australia). Both are threatened by the crushing and trampling of its nests and eggs by off-road vehicles and people as well as habitat destruction and degradation.
The Australian fairy tern (Sternula nereis nereis) breeds only in a few widely scattered colonies in western and southern coastal Australia, which are vulnerable to human disturbance
The Guenther’s southern gecko (Christinus guentheri) is confined to Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and a few smaller islands.
The Lord Howe skink (Oligosoma lichenigera) is confined to Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and a few smaller islands.
The Hermite worm lizard (Aprasia rostrata) is confined to the Montebellow Islands and Barrow Island off north-western Western Australia, and to a small area of the adjacent coastal mainland.
The Cooloola frog (Litoria cooloolensis) is known only from wetland areas on Fraser Island and North Stradbroke Island, off the coast of south-eastern Queensland. Freycinet’s frog (L. freycineti) and the Olongburra frog (L. olongburensis) are both found patchily in coastal eastern Australia (southeastern Queensland and parts of New South Wales, including offshore islands), where they are threatened by loss of habitat.
The wallum froglet (Crinia tinnula) is found patchily in coastal dunes and swampy areas from Litabella National Park in south-eastern Queensland to central-eastern New South Wales, as well as on a few offshore islands (Fraser, Bribie, Moreton, and North Stradbroke).
Tasmania is a large island located 240 km south of southeastern Australia, directly in the pathway of the notorious ‘Roaring Forties’ wind that encircles the southern part of the globe. It is very mountainous, with the central highlands covering most of the central-west and moors occurring above the timber line. Much is still densely forested, with the western areas containing some of the largest remaining temperate rainforests in the Southern Hemisphere. Connected with the continent in geologically recent time (probably about 10,000 years ago during the last world-wide lowering of sea level), it has harboured some animals after their disappearance from continental Australia, and vice versa. The island is thought to have been occupied by aboriginals for 30,000 years prior to their being wiped out by British colonizers. The Anglo- Tasmanians were no more merciful to animal life although, to their credit, they also protected certain species that faced extinction on the Australian mainland, among them the eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), swamp antechinus (Antechinus minimus), southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus), and Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii). More recently Tasmania became the founding place of the first environmental political party in the world, and more than 40 per cent of the island has been set aside as protected areas.
One of the most regrettable instances of the disappearances of an animal on the Australian mainland was that of the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the largest of the marsupial carnivores. Europeans did not have a hand in the retreat of this predator from continental Australia, but they were certainly responsible for exterminating it in Tasmania. It has often been argued that the mainland thylacine succumbed during the Holocene as a result of competition from the dingo, however two other extinction causes are held to have also contributed to the species' disappearance there: human intensification and increased resource use, and climatic changes that resulted in drought-prone systems with more frequent dry periods. In Tasmania, however, man alone was responsible for the tremendous decrease of the thylacine. When it was still fairly common in many areas it was accused of damaging livestock, and the authorities declared war against it. Bounties were offered beginning in 1830 right up to 1914. At least 2268 of the animals were reported killed, although this official figure is much below the true total that does not taken into account numerous private schemes. About 1910 a sharp decline, thought to have been caused by disease, set in. Of course, destruction of habitats also played its part and the result was the almost complete extinction of the species. The last known individual died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936, the same year that it finally received official protection under Tasmanian law. Since then there have been numerous reports of its continued existence, not just in Tasmania but on the Australian mainland as well. It is claimed that one was killed in 1961, and in 1966 footprints and even fresh hair from a lair were reported to have been found in north-western Tasmania. Yet, despite several organized searches there has been no irrefutable evidence of its survival, and it must be considered extinct.
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) became, with the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. It too historically inhabited the Australian mainland but was extirpated there most likely owing to competition with dingoes, and was afterwards confined to Tasmania. There it was heavily hunted both for its fur and for its perceived attacks upon livestock, but managed to hold on in remote areas as well as on tiny Maria Island off the eastern coast. Unfortunately, since the 1990s the population has crashed owing to an invariably fatal infectous cancer (devil facial tumour disease) that now threatens the species’ survival in the wild. Collisions with motor vehicles also take a considerable toll in some areas, particularly when the animals are eating roadkill. In 2020 the species was successfully reintroduced to a protected area in New South Wales. It is the first time that it has lived on the Australian mainland in over 3000 years.
The Tasmanian emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis) was deliberately exterminated by European settlers sometime before 1850. The last reliable reports derive from the late 1830's, with later sightings (>1850) likely referring t mainland birds that had been introduced to the island. Interestingly, the latter would repeat the process when the mainland emu was introduced later that century, as they considered the birds to be a pest.
The forty-spotted pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) is a type of wren that has long been one of Australia’s rarest birds. It is only reliably found in a few isolated colonies in southeastern Tasmania and offshore islands (most notably, Maria Island and Bruny Island).
Lakes, Rivers, and Marshes
With its rugged topography, Tasmania has a great number of rivers and estuaries and consequently a highly endemic fish fauna. Unfortunately, its lakes are among the most polluted in the world.
Several small, tubular-shaped fish of the genus Galaxias endemic to Tasmania are threatened by loss of habitat due to dam construction and by introduced species. The Pedder galaxias (G. pedderensis) was historically found in Lake Pedder, Lake Maria, and their tributaries and surrounding swamps in southern Tasmania. The species declined rapidly from the late 1970s due to the flooding of Lake Pedder by a hydroelectric project, and by the introduction of predatory brown trout throughout its range. It has not been recorded within its native range after 1996, and was for a time confined to a single, remote highland lake in south-western Tasmania (Lake Oberon), where it had been previously introduced as a safeguard. A second translocated population has since been established. The small Pedder galaxias (G. parvus) is found in swampy areas and suitable streams surrounding Lake Pedder in southern Tasmania, along with a few streams draining to Lake Gordon and within the Huon River catchment. It was extirpated from much of its former range by the flooding of Lake Pedder in the early 1970s. The saddled galaxias (G. tanycephalus) occurs in four lakes and a connecting stream in east-central Tasmania. The Swan galaxias (G. fontanus) occurs in a few fragmented localities within the trout-free headwaters of the Swan and Macquarie rivers in north-eastern Tasmania. The species has also been successfully introduced into other predator-free streams.
The Arthurs Lake paragalaxias (Paragalaxias mesotes) occurs in Arthurs Lake, Lake Woods, and a small area of Lake River in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. It is threatened by fluctuating water levels and by trout predation. Great Lake is located on Tasmania’s Central Plateau.
The Great Lake paragalaxias (Paragalaxias dissimilis) is confined to Great Lake and two artificial impoundments downstream from it (Shannon Lagoon and Penstock Lagoon).
The Derwent River is located in central and southeastern Tasmania.
The Clarence galaxias (Galaxias johnstoni) is confined to a few isolated localities within the upper Derwent River drainage, where it is threatened by introduced fish species.
Pedra Branca Rock
Pedra Branca is a windswept rocky islet located off the southern coast of Tasmania.
The Pedra Branca skink (Carinascincus palfreymani) is confined to Pedra Branca Rock, where it is dependent upon seabird colonies. The total population is thought to be between 300 and 500.
Located south-west of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island. Once occupied by Aborigines, the native population disappeared after the land became an island following rising sea levels several thousand years ago. It was subsequently resettled by Europeans from the early nineteenth century onwards. Although fully half of the island has been cleared of vegetation, about a quarter of it has been set aside to protect the remnants. In addition to the native species koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and other threatened species have been introduced. The island was devastated by the massive bushfires of 2019–20.
The Kangaroo Island dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni) is a small, carnivorous marsupial known only from Flinders Chase National Park on the western end of the island.
The Kangaroo Island emu (Dromaius baudinianus) was last collected in 1802. It is thought to have been systematically exterminated by hunting pressure prior to the arrival of permanent settlers in 1836.
The Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus) is an endemic subspecies with a total population estimated as low as 100.
The Kangaroo Island whipbird (Psophodes leucogaster lashmari) is confined to Kangaroo Island, where its population is stable at around 2000.
Flinders Island is located in Bass Strait and is nearer to Tasmania than to continental Australia. About a third of the island is mountainous, and the coastal areas are dominated by scrubby areas and sandy deposits that often take the shape of dunes. Higher elevations still feature eucalyptus forest.
The Flinders Island wombat (Vombatus ursinus ursinus) formerly occurred on all the islands in the Bass Strait, but has since disappeared as a result of being hunted for food as well as changes of habitat. It is now confined to Flinders Island, where it was said to be very common during the early nineteenth century.
King Island is located in the Bass Strait about halfway between Tasmania and the mainland state of Victoria.
The King Island emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae minor) was historically endemic to King Island. Although numerous bones have been found the only existing skin was collected by Nicolas Baudin in 1802, shortly before the species became extinct. It is thought that hunting by sealers for food was the cause.
Lord Howe Island
Located in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, Lord Howe Island is a roughly crescent-shaped volcanic remnant. The island has undergone a tremendous environmental depletion since Europeans came there. In addition to those species and subspecies wiped out by man and his domestic animals, many others were killed between 1918 and 1928 by rats that came ashore from a wrecked ship.
The Lord Howe long-eared bat (Nyctophilus howensis) is known only from a single incomplete skull found in 1972 and not found despite extensive surveys since. However, local island people continue to report seeing it.
The Lord Howe hawk-owl (Ninox novaeseelandiae albaria) appears to have gone extinct through predation by, or competition with, the Tasmanian masked owls (Tyto novaehollandiae castanops) which were introduced in the 1920s in a failed attempt to control the rat population.
The Lord Howe white swamphen (Porphyrio albus) was not definitely recorded after 1790, and was extinct due to hunting by the time the island was settled in 1834.
The Lord Howe woodhen (Hypotaenidia sylvestris) is a flightless endemic rail that was once highly threatened by human persecution and predation by pigs and rats. By the 1970s the total population was down to less than 30. However, between 1978 and 1984 feral animals were removed and captive-raised birds were successfully reintroduced into the wild. The species is now considered to be fairly safe.
The Lord Howe red-fronted parakeet (Cyanoramphus subflavescens) was last reported in 1869.
The Lord Howe white-throated pigeon (Columba vitiensis godmanae) has been extinct since the mid-nineteenth century.
The Lord Howe thrush (Turdus poliocephalus vinitinctus) became extinct in 1918.
The Tasman starling (Aplonis fusca) historically occurred on both Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, where it was divided into two subspecies. The Lord Howe starling (A. f. hullianus) became extinct in 1918, most likely due to the arrival of black rats on the island.
The Lord Howe white-eye (Zosterops strenuus) was a type of passerine bird last recorded in 1908, and not found during a survey in 1928.
The Lord Howe gerygone (Gerygone insularis) was a wrenlike bird last recorded in 1928, with none being found during a survey of the island in 1936.
The Lord Howe grey fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa cervina) was a type of passerine bird that became extinct in 1928.
Norfolk Island is a remote volcanic island about 1400 km east of Australia and midway between New Zealand and New Caledonia. The island was first settled by Polynesians but was long unpopulated when the British arrived in 1788. Since then it has been greatly affected by human pressures and a number of species and subspecies are now extinct.
The Norfolk Island hawk-owl (Ninox novaeseelandiae undulata) had, by 1986, been reduced to a single female. In a programme to preserve at least some of her genes two male owls of the related New Zealand subspecies (N. n. novaeseelandiae) were released on to the island as potential mates for her. The attempt was successful and resulted in fledged chicks in 1989 and 1990. The original female disappeared in 1996, but by then there was a small hybrid population of around a dozen birds, which persists to this day.
The Norfolk Island kaka (Nestor productus) was a type of parrot endemic to Norfolk and adjacent Philip Island. It went extinct in the mid- to late nineteenth century, with the last known living bird in captivity in London in 1851.
The Norfolk Island parakeet (Cyanoramphus cookii) is confined to the region of Norfolk Island National Park.
The Norfolk Island ground dove (Pampusana norfolkensis) is known only from a single painting. It is thought to have succumbed to introduced predators at the end of the eighteenth century.
The Norfolk Island pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae spadicea) was last seen in 1901.
The Norfolk Island starling (Aplonis fusca) was last recorded in 1923, and was certainly extinct before 1968.
The Norfolk Island thrush (Turdus poliocephalus poliocephalus) went extinct during the late 1970s, with the last confirmed record occurring in 1975.
The Norfolk Island robin (Petroica multicolor) is confined to the vicinity of Norfolk Island National Park.
The white-chested white-eye (Zosterops albogularis) is a type of passerine bird that is now possibly extinct, although a small population may still survive within Norfolk Island National Park.
The Norfolk Island golden whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis xanthoprocta) is a type of passerine bird confined to the vicinity of Norfolk Island National Park.
The Percy Islands are a group of small islands located off north-eastern Queensland.
The Percy Islands flying fox (Pteropus brunneus) is known only from a single specimen collected in 1874 from an unspecified island in the group, along with subsequent reports of a colony towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Pearson Island is located off the coast of South Australia. It and nearby islands in the group have been protected since the 1960s.
The Pearson black-flanked rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis pearsoni) is confined to Pearson Island.
The Abrolhos Islands are a large group of islets and associated coral reefs located off the coast of southestern Western Australia.
The Abrolhos painted buttonquail (Turnix varius scintillans) is confined to a few islets within the Abrolhos Islands, where it is threatened by introduced rats and feral cats.
The Recherche Archipelago is an island group located of the southern coast of Western Australia. Part of it is protected within the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve.
The Recherche black-flanked rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis hacketti) is confined to the Recherche Archipelago.
Lancelin Island is a small, low-elevation island located off the south-western coast of Western Australia.
The Lancelin skink (Ctenotus lancelini) is confined to the island, where it is rare and decreasing.
Dirk Hartog Island is located off the central-western coast of Western Australia.
The Dirk Hartog white-winged fairy wren (Malurus leucopterus leucopterus) is restricted to the island.
Barrow Island is located off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.
The Barrow wallaroo (Macropus robustus isabellinus) and the Barrow white-winged fairy wren (Malurus leucopterus edouardi) are both restricted to Barrow Island.
Anthropogenic effects on the flora and fauna
Compared with Africa and Asia prehistoric modern humans entered Australia relatively late, about 65,000–50,000 years ago, arriving by temporary land-bridges and short sea crossings from what is now South East Asia. The oldest human remains yet found there have been dated to around 41,000 years ago, and are believed to be the ancestors of modern indigenous Australians. These first inhabitants were the ancestors of modern Aborigines. The latter people developed a hunter-gatherer way of life and generally had little effect on the living nature around them apart from the grass fires that they periodically lit to catch lizards (a practice that still continues, and which can have devastating environmental effects). It was later immigrants – seafarers from New Guinea – about 5000 years ago who are thought to have introduced the dingo (Canis lupus dingo), the feral Australian dog. Until European settlers arrived with their domesticated dogs, all dingos were purebreds, living, breeding, and undergoing natural section in the wild. The animals had a devastating effect on many native species of fauna, in the long run much more serious than the grass fires mentioned above.
Early European exploration of Australia was driven primarily by the Dutch. The western and northern coastlines had been known and charted by them since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century, and within a few decades the southern coastline too would be explored, culminating with the discovery of ‘Van Dieman’s Land’ (Tasmania) by Abel Tasman in 1642–43. Brief contact with the indigenous people had also been made, although no attempt at colonizing what they called ‘New Holland’ had been made. Nevertheless, a number of shipwrecks had left men either stranded or, as in the case of the Batavia in 1629, marooned for mutiny or murder, thus becoming the first Europeans to permanently inhabit the island continent. But it was not until later in the following century, when Captain James Cook’s Endeavour sailed along and mapped the eastern coast, that the European era in Australia truly began. The latter claimed this stretch of coast for Great Britain and christened it New South Wales. It was there, on 29 April 1770, that he would anchor within a wide bay about 16 km south of Sydney. Onboard were two naturalists, an Englishman named Joseph Banks and a Swede, Daniel Solander, a disciple of Linnaeus. They made so many discoveries during the week they stayed there, and became so enthusiastic over all the new plants and trees they found, that the place was given the name Botany Bay. Not much of the wildlife, either plants or animals, that Banks and Solander found there two and a half centuries ago remains today. Cook and his men made several remarkable zoological discoveries during their visit, with Cook himself describing what was clearly a small kangaroo species. He is therefore often credited with ‘discovering’ the kangaroo (Dutch sailors had, however, found and described kangaroos in western Australia at least a century and a half earlier). During his visit Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.
During the 1780s the British government sent a fleet of ships, the ‘First Fleet’, to establish a new penal colony at Botany Bay, near present-day Sydney. Another British settlement was established in Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, in 1803, which became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of western Australia (the Swan River Colony) in 1828, and additional ‘free’ (i.e. non-penal) colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, Queensland in 1859, and the Northern Territory in 1911. The last convict ship to New South Wales arrived in 1848. Most early convicts were transported for petty crimes, and assigned as labourers or servants upon arrival. While the majority settled into colonial society once emancipated, convict rebellions and uprisings were also staged, although invariably suppressed under martial law. Meanwhile, exploration continued. In 1798–99 Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania, proving its insularity, and in 1802–03 circumnavigated all of the continent. Much of the interior would remain unknown for considerably longer, and it wasn’t until 1860–61 that Robert O’Hara Burke and William Willis became the first to cross Australia from south to north, travelling from what is now Melbourne to the Flinders River.
The arrival of Europeans with their sheep, cattle, rabbits, and many other foreign animals and plants in their wake upset an equilibrium that had lasted for tens of thousands of years. Previously the flora and fauna, including indigenous humans and in spite of the dingo, had fused into a more or less balanced ecosystem. It is true that some mammal species had declined considerably as a result of aboriginal hunting, as evidenced by the remains found in middens and caves. But it was only during the past 250 years that humans have had a truly devastating environmental impact. The aboriginal population itself, estimated to have been between 750,000 and 1,000,000 in 1788, would also undergo a serious decline over the next century and a half, falling to just 50,000 by 1930. This was primarily due to infectious disease (mainly smallpox), although thousands more would die as a result of frontier conflict with settlers. Moreover, a public policy of ‘assimilation’ beginning in the mid-nineteenth century may have also been a factor. Australia was the worst possible continent for the introduction of exotic plants and animals because of the vulnerability of its unique, highly specialized flora and fauna. No less than 17 types of wild mammal have been brought into Australia since 1788, the fatal year of the introduction of the rabbit. The destructive effect of these exotics combined with overgrazing by enormous numbers of livestock and predation by domestic cats and dogs has been monumental. Sheep, together with rabbits, certainly have done more to change Australian natural habitats and damage wildlife than any other introduced species. Deforestation has also affected the fauna, as has ruthless hunting for sport and for pelts with dogs and modern firearms. Today the main threats are feral cats and megafires.
In recent historical time (i.e. since ad 1500), the Australian Realm has lost at least 38 species/13 subspecies of vertebrates. Among the extinct forms 25 species/3 subspecies are mammals, 10 species/10 subspecies are birds and 3 species are amphibians. Another 2 species are possibly extinct. In addition, there are 225 species/28 subspecies currently threatened with extinction (that is to say, either Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List, as well as certain forms either listed as Data Deficient or Not Assessed but which are clearly at some risk of extinction). Of these, 70 species/9 subspecies are mammals, 37 species/16 subspecies are birds, 27 species/3 subspecies are reptiles, 56 species are amphibians and 35 species are freshwater fishes.