Australia is one of only 17 countries in the world that is megadiverse that is, together these countries contain 70% of the world’s biodiversity.
Queensland is the most biodiverse state of Australia, with 70% of Australia’s mammal species, 80% of Australia’s birds, and 50% of Australia’s reptiles and frogs. Queensland Museum has been a vital authority on the investigation, documentation and conservation of Queensland’s faunal biodiversity for over 153 years.
Wild State is a permanent exhibition at Queensland Museum (you may have visited this exhibition before, or are familiar with it). As we are currently closed, we are bringing Wild State to you, to explore why Queensland has such a big diversity of animals.
Queensland has five major types of habitats that are shaped by a number of forces, with the availability and movement of water being the pivotal force. To survive, Australian animals have adapted to these diverse habitats which has given rise to the huge biodiversity in Queensland.
Arid Outback animal adaptions
Animals have incredible adaptations to survive the lack of water in a rapidly changing and often harsh habitat.
What adaptations ensure survival in a habitat that has very little water?
All living things have a variety of observable features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment. Animal survival in the arid environment relies on two crucial factors in withstanding long periods without water and little available water for most of the year. They are:
How animals source water
- From food (for example the fat-tailed dunnart and the cinnamon quail thrush)
- Found in the environment (for example the golden perch and crimson chat)
Reduce water loss
- Producing concentrated urine and dry faeces (such as the fawn hopping mouse)
- Thermoregulation – this includes nocturnal activity (such as the desert scorpion, wolf spider), burrowing/burying (such as the holy cross frog and fawn hopping mouse) and torpor (such as snakes and microbats).
- Having skin that reduces permeability (such as the water-holding frog)
Animals living in the arid habitat are constantly exposed to intermittent rain or flooding. How have they adapted to survive in these extreme conditions?
Living things depend on each other and the environment to survive boom & bust cycles. This cycle occurs when a sudden downpour of rain (boom period) cause rapid breeding in insects, aquatic life and fish. These increases in food resource attract other predators, such as pelicans, raptors, owls and hawks to migrate in and breed. Lifecycles of some animals such as moths and flies are also interlinked with the boom cycles, laying eggs which lay dormant until the next boom period.
Open Forest animal adaption
Animals have adapted to live in an environment where resources such as food and water are spread widely throughout the habitat and are available sporadically at different times of the year.
Generally speaking, open forests in Australia has nutrient poor soils and in some areas this, coupled with limited rainfall, cannot support large numbers of trees, this creates large and open spaces.
What kind of animals have adapted to survive in these conditions?
Food and water are spread out across large distances, or appear sporadically in the open forest so animals living here need to travel in order to eat and drink. Some animals, such as kangaroos, have developed novel ways of covering large distances quickly without using much energy. A kangaroo can get around quickly by jumping as it has elastic tension stored up in its legs, while animals such as raptors use heat rising from large rocks to ride and glide on the thermal current.
Many animals depend on Eucalyptus trees to survive. Why is this?
Eucalypt leaves provide a constant and abundant food source, however they have high levels of indigestible fibre, can be low in essential nutrients and contain toxic compounds to discourage browsing. Many forest animals including koalas have overcome these barriers and are now dependent on gum leaves.
Other animals depend on nectar from Eucalyptus trees. Along with other flowing plants, Eucalyptus hosts a number of mass flowering events. Low nutrient soils result in plants making more sugars then they can use to grow, and this surplus of sweet nectar is offered to animals in return for pollination. These sweet nectar filled flowers attract insects and birds by day and mammals by night. Highly sugary sap within Eucalyptus trees also feed many insects, which is a more constant source of food than fruit or nectar. Finally, hollows found in Eucalyptus tree trunks and branches are vital daily refuges and seasonal breeding nest sites for many species.
Rainforest animal adaptions
As climate changes rainforests retreat to mountain tops and animals are isolated in various microhabitats; they become specialized and can live nowhere else in the world.
Why do the rainforests of the Wet Tropics region of northern Queensland have such a high diversity of animals?
High rainfall enables prolific plant growth and more plants means more structural complexity in the rainforest. This creates more ecological niches which can be filled by a huge array of animals. The rainforests of the Wet Tropics are Queensland’s largest and are made up of numerous high mountain ranges, often over 1000m above sea level. This complex topography creates a high diversity of animals and its associated food chains and webs.
How does climate affect the animals that live in those habitats?
There are many unique and vulnerable animals in rainforests due to the high number of specialist habitats created by the varying climate. As climate affects where organisms occur, species and plants change according to the differing elevation. When animals become adapted to such differing climates they become restricted to that particular area and can lead to speciation. This phenomenon supports a range of scientific theories including the theory of evolution by natural selection to explain the diversity of living things.
Coastal and Intertidal animal adaptions
Queensland has a huge diversity of coastal habitats. Animals adapted to coastal and intertidal habitat are shaped by the dynamics of water. There are many different habitats within the coastal and intertidal environment; think about the various animals living in the habitats below:
In Australia there are about 40 species of mangrove plants. Mangrove trunks and root systems provide vital feeding grounds and shelter for mud crabs, fish and a variety of prawns and small shrimps. Mangroves are also important for shore bird rookeries and nursery beds for many commercial fisheries.
This habitat is fragile as life is under constant pressure from as erosion by storms and increased human activities. Hundreds of species inhabit sandy beaches but most of them are small (less than a few millimetres) and buried. They occupy interstitial spaces between sand grains. Larger animals that depend on sandy beaches (such as the green turtle) are also vulnerable and suffer from human impacts.
Rocky shores are constantly hammered by waves and tidal surges, and sequentially flooded by tides and exposed to the air. Living in this environment presents unique challenges to the animals and plants on rock platforms where there are very few places for creatures to burrow for protection. Animals live in different zonations and are impacted by these different zones, for example chitons reside in the surf zone while mobile molluscs are in the top zone. The growth and survival of living things in Coastal and Intertidal areas are affected by physical conditions of the coastal environment.
Marine animal adaptions
Marine animals have developed a wide range of unique adaptations to live in the sea
Animals living underwater have many different co-dependent relationships in order to survive. What sorts of relationships exist underwater in the Great Barrier Reef?
Some common relationships that can be found in the Great Barrier Reef include:
- Mutualism – where both animals in a relationship benefit from each other,
- Commensalism – where relationships between animals can befit one and not affect the other, and
- Parasitism – where one animal benefits and the other animal loses.
Such interactions between organisms are all affected by the physical conditions of the underwater environment.
What are the major threats to the Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef is under consistent threat from various factors. They include:
- Climate change.
- Sediment, nutrients and pesticide pollution from catchment run-off.
- Out-dated fishing practice.
- Coral bleaching through increased sea surface temperatures and global warming.
- The Crown-of-thorns starfish.
- Local weather events such as cyclones.
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