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Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy

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Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy
Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., & Bugg, A.
Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland
Australian Heritage Commission, March 1995


Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

13.0 Areas Significant for Richness

Sub-criterion A3 considers areas of unusual richness for flora, fauna, landscape or cultural features. Richness can be considered at a number of scales and from a number of perspectives. These include the total number of species in a particular location, the abundance of a few species at a location, or the richness in both species and abundance. In this section orchids, for which Cape York Peninsula is especially species rich in the Australian context, and areas of fish and invertebrate taxon richness on a regional scale have been considered. Clearly, a consideration of other taxonomic groups will be likely to identify additional areas of richness.

13.1 Areas of Orchid Diversity

The orchid diversity of the McIlwraith and Iron Range areas has been considered a feature of conservation significance (Keto & Scott 1989, Lavarack 1981). The information on orchids that has been collected as part of the CYPLUS program confirms this significance, with the orchid diversity most outstanding at the genus level.

Sixty-two genera of orchids have been recorded from Cape York Peninsula (Cofinas et al. 1994). The diversity of orchid genera outside Cape York Peninsula was determined by examining the records for the 80 phytogeographical areas held in the Census of Australian Vascular Plants (Hnatiuk 1990). With the exception of Cook District (consisting of Cape York Peninsula and most of the Wet Tropics) none of the regions support as high a diversity of orchid genera as found on the Peninsula. By comparison to the Peninsula, 20 orchid genera are known from the Darwin - Arnhem - Gulf area of the Northern Territory, while no more than 13 occur north of 200 S in Western Australia. On the east coast, 45 genera occur in NSW and 23 in Victoria. Eighty-four orchid genera have been recorded for the whole of Queensland. Australia as a whole has an orchid diversity that is high in a global context, only being exceeded by that of southern Africa (DEST 1994).

The recorded locations of orchids on Cape York Peninsula is given in Figure 13.1. The areas of greatest diversity correspond to areas containing large patches of rainforest. Areas of significant orchid generic diversity are the McIlwraith Range, Iron Range, Lockerbie Scrub and the Wet Tropical Forests of the south-east (Figure 13.2). The McIlwraith Range area supports over 16% of the entire Australian orchid flora (Keto & Scott 1989).

13.2 Areas of Fish Richness

This work has been adopted from the NRAP NR10 Fish Fauna Survey (Herbert et al 1994).

The Wenlock River contains the richest known freshwater fish fauna of any river in Australia. Forty-eight species of fish are known from this system, of which two are essentially marine. There is a correlation between river basin size and fish diversity, the larger a basin gets, the more species of fish present. Thus fish diversity in a river system is usually measured as a function of basin area. The number of species known from the northern rivers of the Peninsula compares favourably with those known from the intensively studied Alligator River region, and tropical Asian and African rivers.

The fish diversity of Olive River is exceptionally high for an Australian river of this size. Figure 17.8, Areas of significance for fish on Cape York Peninsula, shows these sites of species richness.

13.3 Areas of Invertebrate Richness

While there has been no systematic survey of invertebrate diversity across Cape York Peninsula, several areas have been identified as being particularly diverse for certain groups of invertebrates by experts in that group.

Kim (1994 pers. comm.) considers that the semi-deciduous notophyll/microphyll vine forest in the Mt Webb - Hopevale area (Neldner & Clarkson Vegetation class 13) is rich in Australian lauxaniid flies (Diptera: Lauxaniidae), with thirty species from four genera collected there. The Iron Range area (thirty-one species in four genera) is another area of Cape York Peninsula, that Kim (1994 pers. comm.) considers to have a significant high diversity in an Australian context of lauxaniid flies.

McEvey (1993) records that 86 species of drosophilid flies (Drosophilidae - Diptera) are known from the Iron Range. About 279 species of drosophilid are known in Australia. Iron Range is one of four major centres of diversity for this largely rainforest fly group. The group as a whole is taxonomically well known.

Valentine and Johnson (Section 14 this report) identify the Iron Range area as a critical location for butterfly diversity in Cape York Peninsula, with several species of butterfly only known from this location.

Taylor (1972) collected an estimated 106 species of ants from 51 genera within the Iron Range area. At this time this was the richest ant fauna ever sampled in Australia. Taylor considered that about 80 per cent of the ant species were of New Guinean origin, which probably accounts for the high ant diversity of rainforests in this area, when compared against relatively species poor ant faunas of the Wet Tropical Forests and the subtropical forests of Queensland and New South Wales.

For the purposes of entomological research, the Iron Range area is defined as including the Claudie River and Gordon Creek rainforests incorporating Mt Lamond and Phillip Hills, an area about 10-15 km in diameter.

The McIlwraith Range is also considered to be a core area for invertebrate diversity in Australia. For example, 2,000 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) were collected during one dry season along just a seven kilometre length of track (ANIC News 1994).