The Great Eastern Ranges encompass a broad cross section of habitats, from the tropical rainforests of far northern Queensland to the alpine and subalpine environments of the Kosciuszko and Grampians National Parks. They include some of Australia’s most intact mountainous ecosystems, including forests, woodlands, heaths, wetlands, herb fields and grasslands, as well as some of our most cleared landscapes.
The GER corridor is home to Australia’s richest diversity of native species. This reflects the wide variation in factors such as geology, topography, temperature, rainfall and amount of sun received, which drive patterns of plant and animal diversity in the region. The NSW section of the GER alone contains 59% of NSW threatened animal species and 64% of NSW threatened plants.
Three of Australia’s national ‘biodiversity hotspots’ occur along the GER. Biodiversity hotspots are areas containing extremely large numbers of species that are found nowhere else in the world, which are under significant threat from loss of habitat and human activities. In addition, in 2011, the Forests of East Australia were declared the 35th international biodiversity hotspot. These forests cover much of the GER in NSW and Queensland, and are the second internationally-recognised biodiversity hotspot in the country, along with Southwest Australia.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biological diversity, or ‘biodiversity’, is the variety of all living things in an area, including species, genes and ecosystems. The biodiversity of the Great Eastern Ranges includes all of its different ecosystems; the species that live within these, including animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms; and the variation within each species’ gene pool.
Protecting biodiversity is a major global challenge. Due to human activities, extinctions are occurring at an alarming rate with research indicating that species are now going extinct 1,000 times faster than they would under natural conditions alone. As a result, the Earth is currently in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event in its history.
Apart from the importance of protecting species for their own sake, maintaining biodiversity is vital to ensuring that the land and human communities are healthy and functional. Native species and ecosystems provide key functions on which human societies and nature depend. Because species and ecosystems are closely interconnected through nutrient cycles and food webs across the landscape, even small interruptions can have a dramatic ripple effect. Landscapes with high biodiversity are also healthier and more resilient (i.e. able to withstand and recover from disturbances).
Protecting biodiversity in the GER corridor
Connectivity conservation projects such as GER are crucial for keeping common species common and for maximising opportunities for native species and ecosystems to adapt to, and withstand, the threats they face. The length, intactness, elevation and latitudinal range of the GER corridor provide a unique opportunity to protect the rich biodiversity of Eastern Australia. GER works with land owners and managers to expand public and private land conservation, reconnect the landscape, revegetate cleared areas, and improve management of productive land so that it also supports biodiversity.
GER is also connecting people of all ages and cultures with native species through citizen science and education initiatives such as BioBlitzes and the Great Koala Count. These programs are enhanced by GER’s close connection with the Atlas of Living Australia, a key supporter. The Atlas contains recorded sightings of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and endangered invertebrates. GER encourages the public to get involved by recording sightings, investigating where a particular species occurs, or exploring the biodiversity of an area.