Biodiversity publications archive

Australia's biodiversity: an overview of selected significant components

Biodiversity series, Paper no. 2
Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
, 1994


The variety of life in Australia has long been recognised as distinctive and globally significant. Many highly regarded and cutting-edge texts have been written on components of Australia's biodiversity, or on major biotic groups. Few attempts, however, have been made to document an overview of why Australia's biodiversity is significant, nationally or globally.

This paper provides a picture of some of the immense variety of living organisms that inhabit this continent, and shows how this diversity is significant. A brief overview of the evolutionary development of Australia's biodiversity is first provided as this sets the scene for understanding its distinctiveness. Significant features of the biodiversity of terrestrial, inland aquatic, and marine environments are then explored, followed by those of Australia's external territories. In particular, the highly endemic nature and richness of Australia's biodiversity is outlined, and the many ancient origins and specific adaptations to Australian environments are documented. A number of areas in Australia of particular significance for their biodiversity are then briefly described.

Given the scope and purpose of the paper, it has been necessary to concisely and very briefly summarise much of the available information, and it has not been possible to include all relevant material. Nevertheless, many sources have been used, including the most up-to-date opinions of specialists in the area, and the reference list provides a guide to those seeking further information.

The paper is organised into two information streams. The executive summary together with the highlighted boxes at the beginning of each major section provide a non-technical overview or summary of the paper. The other stream is the more technical text which can be read sequentially, in sections, or accessed through the index. Technical terms used in the paper are explained in a detailed glossary.