Australia's 15 National Biodiversity Hotspots

Click on the map to read summaries of all 15 Australian National Biodiversity Hotspots.

1. Einasleigh and Desert Uplands (Queensland)

In this region of North Queensland, the high ranges and plateaus of Einasleigh contrast sharply with the plains and low ranges of the Desert Uplands. Einasleigh basalt lava flows and lava tunnels provide habitat for threatened and geographically restricted plants and animals. Water enters the Great Artesian Basin aquifers here and important artesian spring complexes contain endemic plants, snails and fish including the Edgbaston Goby and the plant Salt Pipewort (Eriocaulon carsonii). Ecologically and geologically important wetlands include Lake Buchanan and Lake Galilee. In the Desert Uplands alone there are 22 rare or threatened animals, including the Masked Owl and the Julia Creek Dunnart, and 29 rare or threatened plants.

Current threats come from unsustainable grazing pressure, feral animals and in some areas tree clearing. Changing fire regimes and exotic weeds which accompany more intensive grazing have the potential to affect bird species such as the endangered Buff-breasted Button-quail, now restricted to only a few sites.

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2. Brigalow North and South (Queensland and New South Wales)

The inland plains of the Brigalow belt originally supported vast vegetation communities dominated by Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla). On the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range there are large tracts of eucalypt woodlands and the hotspot is also a stronghold for large numbers of endemic invertebrates.

This hotspot includes populations of the endangered Bridled Nail-tail Wallaby and the only remaining wild population of the endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, now limited to around 110 individuals. The area contains important habitat for rare and threatened species including the Bulloak, the Jewel Butterfly, Brigalow Scaly-foot, Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Greater Long-eared Bat, Large Pied Bat, Eastern Long-eared Bat and the threatened community of semi evergreen vine thickets The hotspot provides important habitat for star finches and golden tailed geckos.

Broad-scale clearing for agriculture and unsustainable grazing is fragmenting the original vegetation, particularly on lowland areas, encouraging weed invasion and putting at risk woodland and grassland birds and the natural water cycle. Inappropriate fire regimes and predation by feral animals, in particular pigs, cats and foxes, pose additional threats to local biodiversity.

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3. Border Ranges North and South (Queensland and New South Wales)

This sub-tropical and temperate hotspot is one of Australia's most diverse areas - and it is the most biologically diverse area in New South Wales and southern Queensland. It has a variety of significant habitats: subtropical rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest, mountain headlands, rocky outcrops and transition zones between forests.

These habitats support a huge variety of bird and macropod species. Many are rare or threatened: the Richmond Bird-wing Butterfly, Fleay's Frog, Hastings River Mouse, Long-nosed Potoroo, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Eastern Bristle Bird, Rufous Scrub-bird and the critically endangered Coxen's Fig parrot. Notable birds such as Albert's Lyrebird and the Paradise Riflebird make their home here, and in the south-east Queensland rainforests live a rich variety of primitive plant species, many of them similar to fossils from Gondwana.

This region's high population growth, with associated urban and tourist developments along the coast, is a major cause of habitat loss and fragmentation. Although most remaining natural areas are protected, they are under considerable threat from weeds, fire and recreational use.

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4. Midlands of Tasmania

Predominantly a large plateau basin, this hotspot includes 10 endemic plant species, two endemic freshwater mussels and endemic freshwater snails and caddisflies. There are 32 nationally threatened species and more than 180 plants and animals listed as threatened at the state level. Twelve wetlands are listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia and 10 wetlands are of regional significance. Less than 2 per cent of the area is protected.

The Midlands was one of the first areas of Australia cleared for agriculture and still supports extensive agriculture and plantation forestry. Widespread land clearing has resulted in severe habitat fragmentation with only small and scattered remnants of native vegetation remaining. Vegetation loss and degradation, soil erosion, dryland salinity and invasion by weeds such as willows and gorse, are seriously threatening endemic invertebrates, native orchids and numerous nationally threatened plant species. The new threat posed by foxes is potentially devastating to local biodiversity, including the endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot.

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5. Victorian Volcanic Plain

The Victorian Volcanic Plain is a flat to undulating area stretching west from Melbourne to Portland. It is characterised by fertile volcanic soils that were originally covered with open grasslands, grassy woodlands, large shallow lakes and wetlands. After European settlement most of the plains were converted to pasture, and the region is still dominated by grazing with extensive agricultural crops and plantation forestry.

This hotspot includes 65 species listed as nationally threatened and 173 threatened in Victoria. Nine lakes are recognised as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and 26 lakes listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. Coastal saltmarsh provides important over-wintering habitat for the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot. The remaining areas of native vegetation, although fragmented, are crucial for the continued existence of endemic orchid species.

The degradation of vegetation and habitat, predation by foxes and cats, changing fire patterns, weed invasion and the total grazing pressure of domestic stock, kangaroos and feral rabbits all pose major threats to this region's biodiversity.

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6. South Australia's South-East/ Victoria's South-West

This hotspot straddles the South Australia -Victoria. Border. Extensive clearing has occurred in South Australia, with Victoria holding more extensive areas of remnant vegetation.

South Australia's Coorong salt marshes are among many wetlands which are home to a wide variety of threatened and endemic species. The Coorong is especially important as over-wintering habitat for the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot. The relatively undisturbed saltmarsh of the Glenelg River is an important breeding site for wetland and coastal seabirds.

Wetlands and wetland species have been dramatically affected by vegetation clearance and changed drainage. Dryland salinity is a major concern in the north, causing dieback of native vegetation and pasture, and increasingly saline wetlands. Habitat fragmentation and degradation are key threats to native plants and animals. Feral animals such as rabbits, foxes, cats, goats and deer threaten native plants and animals through grazing, competition and predation. Exotic weeds, such as bridal creeper, African boxthorn, radiata pine and Salvation Jane also represent significant threats.

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7. Mt Lofty/ Kangaroo Island (South Australia)

The Mt Lofty Ranges have been extensively cleared for grazing and dryland agriculture. The Ranges are a centre for declining woodland birds, such as the endangered Southern Emu-wren and the South Australian subspecies of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo. Their survival depends on native vegetation remnants.

Kangaroo Island has proportionally the greatest area of original natural vegetation in South Australia's agricultural zone. Yet eight of the ecosystems in the Kangaroo Island subregion (which includes some small satellite islands) are listed as threatened at the state level. Four animals are nationally listed: the Glossy Black Cockatoo, Kangaroo Island Dunnart, Southern Brown Bandicoot and the Heath Rat. Conservation reserves protect much of Kangaroo Island and it is one of the largest areas in Australia free of rabbits and foxes. Despite this protection, mammals are still threatened by cats and dogs, changed fire patterns and habitat fragmentation.

There are 14 nationally threatened plants on Kangaroo Island. Most are poorly conserved with the largest populations occurring on roadsides in the extensively cleared agricultural areas of the island. These plants, which include the endangered Pink-lipped Spider-orchid and White Spider-orchid, face threats such as weed invasion, dryland salinity, changed fire patterns, root rot fungus, and unsustainable grazing pressure.

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A Dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis) found in the Fitzgerald River Ravensthorpe hotspot, Western Australia

A Dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis) found in the Fitzgerald River Ravensthorpe hotspot, Western Australia

Photo: Tony Friend

8. Fitzgerald River Ravensthorpe (Western Australia)

This hotspot's landforms vary from sand plains along the coastal section - subject to grazing and dryland cropping - to the peaks of the Ravensthorpe Ranges.

Coastal shrublands and heathlands host remnant populations of south-western Australian birds. The offshore islands form crucial habitat for marine mammals and breeding sites for birds such as the Cape Barren Goose and the Noisy Scrub-bird, which has been successfully translocated to Bald Island.

Threats within this hotspot include habitat fragmentation, feral animals, unsustainable grazing pressure and weed invasion. Many species and ecosystems are very localised and so are especially vulnerable to fire. Salinity, rising water tables and the root-fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi threaten remaining areas of vegetation, even those in conservation reserves. Sedimentation and increased salinity are affecting the wetlands.

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Wildflowers in the Busselton Augusta hotspot, Western Australia

Wildflowers in the Busselton Augusta hotspot, Western Australia

Photo: Arthur Mostead

9. Busselton Augusta (Western Australia)

The heathlands and shrublands of the coastal plains support hundreds of different plants per square kilometre - many of them endemic and endangered - and a wide range of native invertebrates. In the south, forests and woodlands with high rainfall are habitat for another highly diverse range of plants and animals.

Over-grazing pressure, changed fire regimes and habitat fragmentation have the potential to affect these landscapes and threaten the viability of species such as Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo, the Chuditch (or Western Quoll) and Brush-tailed Phascogale.

The area has many caves systems with significant aquatic invertebrates found only in Western Australia. Changes in groundwater movement could potentially cause significant stress to the threatened cave communities.

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10. Central and Eastern Avon Wheatbelt (Western Australia)

The dominant vegetation of this area includes woodlands of Wandoo, York Gum, Salmon Gum, Casuarina and some areas of proteaceous scrub heaths. The woodlands contain many of Western Australia's threatened plants and birds. The area is particularly rich in endemic plants - Grevilleas, Hakeas, Eucalypts, Acacias, Eriostemons, and the Asteracea family - and invertebrates, particularly ground-dwelling spiders.

Most of the native vegetation has been cleared for agriculture and grazing, leading to extensive salinity problems over one-third of the area. Remnant vegetation, wetlands, river systems, populations of species and ecosystems are in poor condition, and the fragmentation of vegetation means an increased threat of weeds, fire, and feral animals.

Sedimentation, salination and other pressures such as water diversion and water pollution threaten the area's nationally important wetlands.

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11. Mount Lesueur-Eneabba (Western Australia)

The Mount Lesueur-Eneabba hotspot supports a large number of distinct, species-rich and endemic communities. There are more than 250 indigenous plant species, many living in the heaths and scrub-heaths. The hotspot is a stronghold for reptiles, especially small lizards, and home to the threatened Dibbler, a small carnivorous marsupial.

The offshore islands are important refuge areas for nesting sea turtles, the West Australian Tammar Wallaby and rare breeding seabirds.

Pastoralism dominates much of the region, and the total grazing pressure of stock and feral herbivores such as rabbits is causing land degradation, high sediment levels in rivers and fragmentation of remaining vegetation.

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12. Geraldton to Shark Bay sand plains (Western Australia)

Extensive heaths and scrub-heaths, strongholds for native plants and animals, characterise much of the hotspot.

Sandplains are most extensive in the north, where the area overlaps the edges of the Carnarvon Basin hotspot. The sand plains are home to a diverse range of endemic plants and many reptiles, including a number of endemic small skinks and the Western Australian Carpet Python.

Pastoralism, with some cereal cropping, dominates much of the region, and grazing pressure from stock and rabbits has led to land degradation and fragmentation of vegetation. Unsustainable grazing is also causing high sediment loads in rivers and extensive salination across the area.

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13. Carnarvon Basin (Western Australia)

The Carnarvon Basin is a relatively flat area dominated by hummock grasslands, Acacia shrublands and woodlands. Sea turtles breed in the conservation reserves of the Shark Bay World Heritage area and the offshore island groups. Seabirds and endangered mammals no longer found on the mainland have made this area their refuge. Aquatic and terrestrial cave-dwelling animals live in the caves and sinkholes of the Cape Range.

Extensive unsustainable sheep grazing is degrading the landscape, and the damage is exacerbated by feral herbivores such as rabbits. On the coastal margin, sedimentation (from grazing) and increased salinity levels pose a threat to lakes, creeks, mangrove and coastal flats. Degradation will potentially affect vegetation communities away from the coastal zone.

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14. Hamersley-Pilbara (Western Australia)

The Hamersley-Pilbara hotspot provides habitat for a number of threatened, endemic and fire-sensitive species and communities. The Hamersley Range provides relatively protected habitats for many species including the Ghost Bat, Mulgara and Spectacled Hare-wallaby, and the aquifers support endemic cave-dwelling animals. The Pilbara is home to small marsupials such as the Little Red Antechinus and the Pebble-mound Mouse. The arid climate favours endemic reptiles including gecko and goanna species. The coastal islands are refuges for vulnerable species that are rare or extinct on the mainland, such as the Western Chestnut Mouse, and are breeding sites for turtles and seabirds.

The Pilbara's large coastal plains and inland ranges support an extensive sheep and cattle grazing industry. The effects of past over-grazing are exacerbated by the total grazing pressure of current stock and introduced species such as rabbits, contributing to land degradation.

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15. North Kimberley (Western Australia)

The North Kimberley has a variety of rare features including mound springs, swamp rainforests and the Airfield Swamp, a large wetland with a paperbark forest. Populations of the endangered Gouldian Finch live here, and endemic and threatened mammals include the Golden Bandicoot, Scaly-tailed Possum and Monjon (a rock wallaby).

This area consists mainly of Aboriginal land and pastoral grazing leases and is characterised by savanna woodland. With grazing has come changed fire regimes and a continuing general deterioration of the landscape. Extensive dry season fires have damaged sensitive tropical and sub-tropical forests and woodlands. Rainforest patches provide refuges for invertebrates, now under threat from fire and stock. Feral cats are common and feral pigs populations are expanding, while colonisation by cane toads is a future threat.