About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Found Nowhere Else! Some Australian state endemics.

I've had it in the back of my mind for a while to feature some plants and animals which are endemic (ie found nowhere else), not just to Australia - that would be a bit too easy - but to just one Australian state or territory. Now seems like as good a time as any, so let's travel round the country and meet a few of these relatively restricted organisms.

Some jurisdictions were easy - the south-west of Western Australia and the island state of Tasmania have been isolated from the rest of Australia for some time, so endemism is widespread there. Others were a bit trickier, but I've got examples from every jurisdiction, including the tiny Australian Capital Territory where I live. The real embarrassment is only being able to provide one example from Victoria, the nearest state (other than New South Wales, which surrounds us here) to our home. In the last decade I've spent less time there than anywhere else in Australia - I really must remedy that!

If you're not familiar with the layout of Australia, here it is with the states and territories marked on it.  

OK, this isn't intended to be very deep, so let's start, beginning in the heartland of Australian endemism, the south-west of Western Australia.


Quokkas Setonix brachyurus, Rottnest Island; they have no close relatives.
These small macropods (kangaroos and wallabies) were widespread on the south-west mainland,
but predation by foxes and cats has almost eliminated them from there.
On some islands, most famously the tourist destination of Rottnest, they thrive.
(The Dutch navigator Willem de Vlamingh named the island for them in 1696,
the name meaning "rats' nest"!)
There are 16 endemic WA bird species, mostly in the south-west. Some are members of east-west species pairs, obviously derived from a single population when the south-west was isolated by aridity.
Red-eared Firetail Stagnopleura oculata, Albany.
There are two firetail species across the country in the south-east,
with the Beautiful Firetail S. bella probably the most similar.
Other WA endemics have no close relatives and have presumably been separated for a long time.
Red-capped Parrot Purpureicephalus spurius, Albany.
A truly spectacular bird, the only one of its genus, which uses its long upper mandible to extract seeds
from the big capsules of Marri Eucalyptus (or Corymbia) calophylla.
Motorbike Frog Litoria moorei, Margaret River.
Named for the truly amazing call, complete with gear changes!

As for endemic plants - well, the south-west alone has nearly 6,000 endemic species, so selection is pretty arbitrary! Here are three, selected more or less at random.
Purple Enamel Orchid Elythranthera brunonis, Two Peoples Bay. A spectacularly shiny orchid.
Red and Green Kangaroo Paw Anigozanthus manglesii, Perth.
This extraordinary plant is the state floral emblem.
Bird-pollinated, the anthers brush the bird's forehead as it probes the base for nectar.
West Australian Christmas Bush Nuytsia floribunda, Torndirrup NP.
A mistletoe growing as a tree, parasitising the roots of adjacent plants.
The genus name is for Dutchman Pieter Nuyts, who as a high official in the Dutch East India Company
accompanied one of the very first European explorations of the southern Australian coast in 1626.
He later became Dutch ambassador to Japan, and governor of Formosa (now Taiwan).
We'll continue around the country clockwise, so next stop...


Many species extend their range across much of northern Australia, so endemics aren't quite so easy to find here, but there certainly are some. Some are associated with the great sandstone escarpments of Kakadu National Park, east of Darwin on the map above.
Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon Petrophassa rufipennis, Burrunggui (formerly known erroneously as Nourlangie Rock).
Pretty much endemic to Kakadu National Park!

There are other NT endemics however, not tied to the sandstone.
Hooded Parrot Psephotus dissimilis, Pine Creek.
This woodland parrot is restricted to woodlands of the Top End.
Among endemic NT plants is Australia's only native bamboo species. 
Bambusa arnhemica, Kakadu National Park.
And the Territory's endemics are not limited to the tropics either. The desert ranges to the south also harbour some plants found nowhere else.
MacDonnell Ranges Cycad Macrozamia macdonnellii, Palm Valley, central Australia.
Isolated in the MacDonnell Ranges and their outliers by the drying of the continent, this species
is listed as threatened under national legislation.
Continuing east, we get to the biologically rich state of....

Here the focus of endemism is on the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, centred on Cairns in the tropical north. The rainforests in particular here support many endemic species.
Spotted Catbird Ailuroedus maculosus, Atherton Tablelands.
This is a 'recent' endemic, in that until recently it was regarded as part of a species that extended to New Guinea.
It has now been split off as a species in its own right, with the New Guinea species now known as
Black-eared Catbird A. melanotis.
(However this species is also found in far north Queensland, so Australia now
finds itself the proud possessor of three catbird species!)
Wet Tropics endemics can also be readily found among mammals, reptiles and plants.
Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo Dendrolagus lumholtzi, Atherton Tableland -
it is in fact endemic to this high rich volcanic soil tableland.
(Awful photo, sorry! It's the only one I've got.)
Cooktown Ring-tailed Gecko Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus, near Cooktown.
Like the catbird above, this gecko was once regarded as part of a species that extended into New Guinea,
but herpetologists now recognise five Australian members of the genus, none of them found in New Guinea.
This one apparently lost its ringed tail, and the one that replaced it is unadorned.

Bull Kauri Agathis microstachya, Atherton Tableland, to which it, like the tree kangaroos,
is pretty well limited. This conifer is a member of the old Gondwanan family Araucariaceae.
Queensland is a big state however, and the Wet Tropics don't have a total monopoly on endemics.
Yellow Honeyeater Stomiopera (until recently Lichenostomus) flava, Ingham.
(It is on an African Tulip Tree, not endemic, not even native to Australia!)
This honeyeater is found across far north Queensland in woodlands and along watercourses.
Leichhardt's Yellow Jacket Eucalyptus (or Corymbia) leichhardtii, west of Charters Towers.
This drier woodland tree of north and central Queensland commemorates the Prussian scientist-explorer
Ludwig Leichhardt who became something of a national hero for his exploring feats in Queensland
and the Northern Territory before vanishing in a somewhat rash attempt to find a route from
south-east Queensland to Perth, in 1848

South now, to...

This state (NSW from now on) doesn't have isolated extremities like WA and Queensland do, so endemics aren't so prevalent, especially among animals. There is just one NSW bird endemic, the Rock Warbler (or Origma) Origma solitaria.
Rock Warbler, Morton National Park. This bird, the only one of its genus, is a resident of the
Sydney Sandstone, based on the Blue Mountains.
There are certainly endemic plants in NSW, including its magnificent state emblem.
New South Wales Waratah Telopea speciosissima, Budderoo NP.
A truly superb member of the family Proteaceae, the head comprising dozens of red flowers surrounded
by red bracts to make them even more appealing to pollinating birds.
Still a common part of near-coastal heathlands, though illegal cutting of the flowers near
population centres has been damaging.
Buttercup Doubletail Diuris aequalis, near Bungendore.
This lovely donkey orchid (for the flower shape, like a donkey's face) is limited to inland south-east NSW;
it is listed as threatened under both state and national legislation.
Before we leave NSW, we must pause in the Australian Capital Territory, which you can see as a tiny jurisdiction around Canberra, labelled ACT, in the far south-east of NSW on the map above. It's biologically part of the NSW southern highlands, but we do have a couple of plants not found across the nearby border. Here's one.
Canberra Spider Orchid Caladenia actensis, Canberra Nature Park;
'actensis' means 'from ACT' ie Australian Capital Territory! It is known from only a couple of populations
on Mounts Majura and Ainslie on the edge of Canberra, covering no more than half a hectare.
It is listed nationally as Critically Endangered.
South now to ...
This is a small state with no endemic bird species, though it has some other endemic animals. I've not spent much meaningful time there since I had a digital camera (!) so with apologies to my Victorian friends, I present this miserly proffering.
Grampians Bossiaea B. rosmarinifolia, Grampians (Gariwerd) NP.
This range in western Australia boasts one of the best wildflower displays in south-eastern Australia;
this species is one of several limited to the range.
With more confidence I now cross the Bass Strait, to where endemics are rife, including 12 birds.


Tasmanian Scrubwren Sericornis humilis, Freycinet NP.
Tasmania hasn't been isolated for as long as south-western Australia has, and nearly all the Tasmanian
endemics are closely related to a mainland species. In this case, the mainland 'cousin species' is the familiar
White-browed Scrubwren.
Spotted Skink Niveoscincus ocellatus, Binalong Bay.
This is a rock-preferring endemic skink of northern and eastern Tasmania.
Tasmanian Pademelons Thylogale billardierii, Narawntapu NP.
(I freely admit that I'm cheating somewhat here, as they used to occur on the mainland until
the early 20th  century so are not strictly endemic to Tasmania, though they're found nowhere else  now.
They are very photogenic though...)
There are plenty of endemic Tasmanian plants to choose from, and I'm opted for just a couple.
Pandani Richea pandanifolia, Mount Field NP.
This is a heath (family Ericaceae, though not everyone here agrees with lumping the Australian heaths,
until recently Epacridaceae, into this largely Old World family), and purportedly the world's
largest heath plant. It can grow to over ten metres tall.
Pencil Pines Arthrotaxis cupressoides, family Cupressaceae, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain NP.
There are several endemic Tasmanian conifers, associated with rainforests and heathlands.
Which finally leads us back to the mainland, and west again, to my former home state of...


Here too there is just one endemic bird species, which I finally saw recently (and which may have been, even if subconsciously, the trigger for this posting); virtually all South Australia's land borders are in deserts which continue across the continent, and their inhabitants follow the arid lands far afield.

Chestnut-breasted Whiteface Aphelocephala pectoralis, south of Coober Pedy;
a very small rusty-coloured bird in a very large rusty-coloured landscape.
It's taken me decades to take this poor photograph, so I hope you can be forgiving of it.
Endemic plants are found in South Australia too, often on the peninsulas that project into the Southern Ocean; the dry lands to the north of these peninsulas isolate organisms in their moister southern sectors.
Limestone Mintbush Prostanthera calycina, High Cliffs, is endemic to Eyre Peninsula
where it is mostly found growing on limestone. It is listed nationally as Vulnerable to extinction..
Winter Spider Orchid Caladenia (or Arachnorchis) brumalis, Wanilla Conservation Park, Eyre Peninsula.
This species too is associated with limestone (there's a lot of it in that part of the world!), and is listed
under state and national legislation as threatened. It is found on all three of the major peninsulas.
So that completes our odyssey - many kilometres, not so many species out of all the ones I could have chosen. If you've seen all these you've seen quite a bit of the country; if not yet, then hopefully it can provide another small reason for planning your next trip!

Next time, as promised, I'll complete the series on the Great Sandy Desert by introducing some of the many flowering shrubs that were on show recently.


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Flabmeister said...

A most interesting post thank you. It has stirred many thoughts in my mind.

A first is the biological daftness of the ACT being isolated from NSW. That led to thoughts about the need for a taxonomy of daftnesses, most of which would apply to that situation.

A second thought was comparing your reference to an area being isolated by aridity with the borders of SA being mainly deserts. Is the area inside Goyder's Line a potential hotspot for the process of speciation?


Ian Fraser said...

I look forward to your posting on a "taxonomy of daftnesses".

Good thought re Goyder's Line providing an isolated area. I agree to a point, but to the east it's open to NSW and Victoria, so not really isolated in the sense that SWWA, Wet Tropics, Tas or the bottoms of Eyre and York Peninsulas are.