Queensland’s biodiversity

Queensland has Australia’s greatest biodiversity, characterised especially by some iconic ecosystems recognised internationally as World Heritage Areas and defined by their living and fossil biodiversity. Queensland has 19 of Australia’s 80 terrestrial bioregions, 17 of the 60 marine bioregions, and 5 of the 13 world heritage-listed sites (comprising 36 million hectares). These include the rainforests of the Wet Tropics, coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island and other islands of the Great Sandy Region, and the Riversleigh fossil field.

Queensland ecosystems contain about 70% of Australia’s mammals, 80% of its birds, 50% of its reptiles and frogs; but we know far less about the potentially millions of terrestrial and marine invertebrate species. This is a major reason why Queensland Museum devotes considerable research resources to discovering and naming the still largely unknown invertebrate faunas.

MacGillivray Reef, Lizard Island. © Queensland Museum, Gary Cranitch

Queensland also has more than 8000 known flowering plants, gymnosperms and fern species and vegetation, ranging from heaths and temperate woodland to tropical rainforests, with Queensland’s flora more substantially known than its fauna.

Biodiversity crisis: ‘the sixth extinction’

Throughout Earth’s history there have been five major and several lesser Extinction Events. These extinction events concern the sudden disappearance of many species. The most ‘infamous’ event was the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago). The fossil record shows that many life forms, with different body plans from those seen in living phyla, evolved and subsequently became extinct during the Precambrian and Cambrian periods, representing possibly over 100 phyla not alive today.

See the geological time line and extinction events over Earth’s history.

Bridled Nailtail Wallaby
Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, Onychogalea fraenata
Currently endangered in Queensland
Photo: Queensland Museum, Gary Cranitch

We now face ‘The Sixth Extinction’ event. This new event differs significantly from the others that were caused by catastrophic natural disasters or gradual changes to Earth’s chemistry and physical topography. It is different because it is happening over a very short period of time, within time scales of decades, not millennia, and it is a direct result of one species substantially modifying the planet at the expense of the other 11 million or so species. That species is us.

Rabbit-eared Bandicoot
Greater Bilby, Macrotis lagotis
Currently endangered in Queensland and vulnerable nationally
Photo: Queensland Museum, Bruce Cowell

At the current rate of habitat destruction it is estimated that within the next 100 years or so about half of the world’s existing species may be extinct, and this does not include the countless thousands of species we have already made extinct. Man’s impact on the environment has been, and continues to be, catastrophic. The rate of species loss during this, ‘The Sixth Extinction’, is estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 1000 times greater than during any previous Extinction Events.

Irrespective of the huge technological advances made in science, we cannot replicate or recreate nature’s bounty. Extinction is fundamentally a one-way street!

Learn more about Queensland’s biodiversity here.

Kids activity – in our Queensland endangered species activity, spend time mindfully colouring-in and matching up the listed names to the species illustration, and learn about some of the species that are currently classified as endangered in Queensland. Download here.

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