Biodiversity

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Our natural world is made up of millions of different individual plants, animals and microorganisms.

This variety of individual living things also includes ‘communities of life’, where complex and important relationships and interdependence between life forms creates ecosystems.

A range of ecosystems connected across the landscape by particular characteristics is referred to as a bioregion.

Biodiversity exists at different scales including global, regional, ecosystem, species and genetic levels. It is not fixed, but at all of these scales it is constantly changing. It is increased by genetic change and evolutionary processes and reduced by habitat degradation, population decline and extinction.

Biodiversity underpins the continued existence of the entire planet as we know it, and our way of life.

There are many ‘services’ that a biodiverse environment performs that are both essential to our survival and provide opportunities for the future.

The Wet Tropics region is a special place for biodiversity.

Because of the enormous diversity in altitude and climate, the Wet Tropics region is truly a biodiversity hot spot of global significance. Directly descended from Gondwana Land, pockets of rainforest in this region have survived 8 major stages of evolutionary change over 415 million years and have more life forms with primitive characteristics than anywhere else in the world.

These origins, along with the varied climate and the dramatic shape of the land, combine to create the perfect conditions for mega-biodiversity. The Wet Tropics contains half of Australia’s bird species, one third of the continent’s mammals and about 3,000 plant species.

It is home to numerous endemic species, which means that they are found nowhere else in the world and many are rare and threatened plants and animals. Of particular interest is the Southern Cassowary, the Mahogany Glider and the Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo, a kangaroo which actually lives in the treetops of the threatened Mabi Forest.

The ecosystems of the Wet Tropics region have also evolved over thousands of years through active Aboriginal interaction with the land and management of its resources. The plants and animals of the region are a fundamental and integral part of many aspects of the life and culture of Traditional Owners.

Due to its diversity and the unique warm and wet climatic conditions and altitudinal variation, it is anticipated that the Wet Tropics region will be a really important refuge for quite a number of species in a changing climate. For example, species from further west may move into the Wet Tropics as it becomes drier. Species that currently call the coastal areas ‘home’ may move up the mountain slopes to cooler locations.

Threats to biodiversity

Although the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area covers 35% of our region, the precious and unique plants and animals are not adequately protected. There are many threats which, unless dealt with, will continue to erode the extraordinary biodiversity values of this region.

Habitat destruction and fragmentation are top of the list as they destroy ‘homes’ and limit the ability of animals to move and interbreed. Pests and weeds, which are rampant in this warm and wet climate, are another significant threat, while pollution, changing fire regimes and changes to waterways also play a part.

Australia is in a unique position to protect the biodiversity of this region. Of the 17 ‘megadiverse’ countries, only 2 are developed. Australia’s low population and continental sovereignty provides a unique opportunity for Australia to be world leaders in the protection of the amazing spectrum of plant and animal life that call this region home.

Everyone has a role to play in keeping their footprint as light as possible, respecting the right of other species to exist and flourish, as well as sharing information about the importance of our plants and animals with future generations. The ecological, economic, cultural and social fabric of our Wet Tropics lives depends on this.

The Wet Tropics Bioregion

The Wet Tropics Bioregion, although only accounting for 0.26% of the total area of Australia, conserves a large proportion of Australia’s biodiversity, as demonstrated in the table below (from Goosem, 2002).

% of Australian Total

Wet Tropics Bioregion land area

0.26%

Animals

Mammals

35%

Birds

40%

Frogs

29%

Reptiles

20%

Freshwater fish

42%

Butterflies

58%

Plants

Vascular plants

26%

Ferns

65%

Cycads

21%

Confiers

37%

Orchids

30%

NB: the Wet Tropics bioregion (ca. 2 million hectares) does not fully align with the Wet Tropics NRM region (2.2 million hectares), and notably does not include the Upper Herbert. 

Goosem, S. (2002). “Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area – including an Update of the Original Wet Tropics of Queensland Nomination Dossier”. Wet Tropics Management Authority, Cairns, QLD.