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

10. Refugia in Western Australia (continued)

10.10. Reference number WA10

Refuge area: Nullarbor caves

Biogeographic region: Nullarbor, in both Western and South Australia

Type of refuge: Cave system

Lat./Long. From 126° to 132°E, south of 30°S

Quality of refuge: Highly significant (6)

Area (km²): Scattered over >10,000

Chief refuge value

Provides refuge for many evolutionarily relictual species.

General description

The Nullarbor caves are formed in the karst of the Nullarbor Plain. They contain an impressive array of troglobites (confined to the subterranean environment and demonstrating morphological adaptation to that environment, such as loss of eyes) and troglophiles (species which live in the subterranean environment, but which lack explicit morphological adaptations or which may occasionally be found outside caves). The species appear confined to the Nullarbor caves; indeed, some species have been found in only one cave. Evolutionary origins of the animals are mixed. The closest relatives of some species are dry-adapted groups, but relatives of others are forest-dwellers from eastern Australia or Tasmania, or even ancient Gondwanan groups now represented only in caves in other parts of Australia.

ANZECC-listed species

None identified.

Regional endemics and relict species

Troglobites: The crustaceans Abebaioscia troglodytes (Philosciidae), Buddelundia sp. (Armadillidae), and Melita sp. (Gammaridae); an undescribed centipede; a cockroach Trogloblatella nullarborensis; two undescribed carabid beetles; and the spiders Troglodiplura lowryi (Nemesiidae/Dipluridae), Tartarus mullamullangensis, T. murdochensis, T. thampannensis, T. nurinensis (Agelenidae), Janusia muiri (Ctenidae) and Icona sp. (Theridiidae)1.

Troglophiles: The crustacean Laevophiloscia michaelseni (Philosciidae); the beetles Notospeophonus pallidus, Speotarus lucifugus, Thenarotes speluncarius (Carabidae) and Brises acuticornis (Tenebrionidae); the orthopteran Pallidotettix nullarborensis (Rhaphidophoridae); and the pseudoscorpions Protochelifer cavernarum (Cheliferidae), Cryptocheiridium australicum and Troglochernes imitans (Cheiriidae)1.

Other significant species

The bat Chalinolobus morio uses the caves as shelter, and the poorly known cave-dwelling Nullarbor population of the masked owl Tyto novaehollandiae appears still to exist1, 2.

Key threats

Alteration to hydrology, visitation.

Land tenure

Pastoral leases, Nullarbor National Park, Nullarbor Regional Reserve, Aboriginal land.

Key references

1. Davey et al. (1992)

2. Blakers et al. (1984)