Biodiversity publications archive

Refugia for biological diversity in arid and semi-arid Australia

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 4
S.R. Morton, J. Short and R.D. Barker, with an Appendix by G.F. Griffin and G. Pearce
Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995


The Biodiversity Series

This report is the fourth in the Biodiversity Series produced by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. The series intends to provide information about aspects of Australia's considerable biodiversity, including its global and national significance, and its conservation and management status. Many of the papers in the series will consist of reports prepared for the Biodiversity Unit on a range of biodiversity related subjects.

This report has been written by scientists within the CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology under commission to the Biodiversity Unit. It investigates the significance of refugia to biodiversity in the arid and semi-arid zones of Australia, and examines the management issues confronting them.

Some 70 per cent of Australia is included in the study area. The area is of vital economic importance and is also significant as a reservoir of biodiversity, much of which (particularly plant and invertebrate diversity) remains to be discovered. Within this vast dry area pockets exist which, because they retain moisture, or because they have been isolated from climatic or human induced changes, act as refugia or refuges. These refugia contain concentrations of plants and animals, sometimes unique ecosystems. Many of these organisms are relicts of millennia old fauna and floras and as such are of great scientific interest. Many refugia are places to which populations of plants and animals retract in the face of adverse environmental conditions such as widespread drought, and still others have acted as refuges from land clearing and exotic animal invasions of the last two centuries.

This report examines the 76 refugia which can be identified in arid and semi-arid Australia from all available literature and describes their known significance for biodiversity conservation, including endangered species, species of evolutionary importance, and species which are restricted to these areas. Land uses and management issues are also identified . It is noteworthy that in some regions, fewer refugia than expected were found in references, perhaps reflecting a lack of data. An appendix explores a methodology for identifying ecological refugia.

The authors have made a significant contribution to understanding the importance of refugia in drier areas of Australia. This report is a valuable addition to the Biodiversity Series.

Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories.