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Flora & Fauna in Australia
 
 
 

General

Australia is a land like no other, with about one million different native species. More than 80% of the country’s flowering plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to Australia, along with most of its freshwater fish and almost half of its birds.

Australia’s marine environment is home to 4,000 fish species, 1,700 coral species, 50 types of marine mammal and a wide range of seabirds. Most marine species found in southern Australian waters occur nowhere else.

Australia’s geographic isolation has meant that much of its flora and fauna is very different from species in other parts of the world. Most are found nowhere else. However, some closely related species are found on the continents which once made up the ancient southern super continent Gondwana.

Covered in rainforest and ferns 300 million years ago, Gondwana included South America, Africa, India and Antarctica. Most of Australia’s flora and fauna have their origins in Gondwana, which broke up about 140 million years ago.

Australia separated from Antarctica 50 million years ago. As it drifted away from the southern polar region, its climate became warmer and drier and new species of plants and animals evolved and came to dominate the landscape.

Flora

Most of the Gondwanan forests were replaced by tough-leaved open forests of eucalypts and acacias. Some isolated remnants of the ancient Gondwanan forests remain. These include the cool and warm temperate rainforests of Tasmania and eastern Australia and the dry rainforests or scrub forests of northern Australia. These forests have high conservation values.

In 1994, the Wollemi Pine was found in a remote valley in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It is believed to be representative of a now extinct group of trees that existed at the time of the dinosaurs, making it a species that has been around for 65 million years.

There are now an estimated 20 000 vascular and 7700 non-vascular plants, and 250 000 species of fungi in Australia. Plants include living fossils such as the cycad palm and the grass tree, and brilliant wildflowers such as the waratah, Sturt’s desert pea, banksia and kangaroo paws.

Australia has over 1000 species of acacia, which Australians call ‘wattle’, and around 2800 species in the Myrtaceae family, which includes eucalypts (or gum trees) and melaleucas.

Wildflowers, including everlasting daisies, turn the arid and savanna grassland areas of Australia into carpets of colour after rain. Native forests are limited to wetter coastal districts, and rainforests are found mainly in Queensland.

The high diversity of flora includes large numbers of species in ecologically significant genera such as Acacia, Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Grevillea and Allocasuarina. Acacias tend to dominate in drier inland parts of Australia, while eucalypts dominate in wetter parts. Australia’s unique flora includes the Proteaceae family of Banksia, Dryandra, Grevillea, Hakea and Telopea (waratah).

The most common vegetation types today are those that have adapted to arid conditions, where the land has not been cleared for agriculture. The dominant type of vegetation in Australia (23%) is the hummock grasslands in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. In the east eucalypt woodlands are prevalent, and in the west there are Acacia forests, woodlands and shrublands. Tussock grasslands are found largely in Queensland.


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