Many of the species found within the Great Eastern Ranges are endemic to the GER. An ‘endemic’ species is one that is restricted to a particular geographic region. Some endemic species were once widespread, but have been forced to contract to small refuge areas due to changes in climate, or other pressures such as land clearing. Other endemic species may have evolved relatively recently in a restricted area, as a result of adaptation to localised pressures, or the isolation of a population.
The diversity of habitats found in the GER corridor means that there are many isolated refuge areas that can support endemic species. In the NSW section of the GER alone, at least a quarter of the plant species (over 1,200 species) are endemic. Within the larger ‘Forests of East Australia’ biodiversity hotspot in NSW and Queensland, there are over 2,144 endemic plant species.
There is a local hotspot for endemic birds in the subtropical habitats of the NSW north coast. In the north of the GER corridor, the Wet Tropics area is a major centre of endemism, supporting 11 unique mammal species, 11 unique bird species, 24 endemic reptiles and 22 endemic amphibians.
Why are endemic species important?
Endemic species are a unique and irreplaceable part of Australia’s natural heritage. Unfortunately, because they are frequently reliant on a particular localised habitat, they are often not well adapted to change. For example, the broad-headed snake is an endemic species restricted to a sandstone landscape, 250 km from Sydney. This species has very specific habitat and biological requirements that limit its adaptability to change and increase its scarcity. Similarly, the dwarf mountain pine grows exclusively in the splash zones of waterfalls in the Blue Mountains in NSW.
Many endemic species (and other iconic species) are threatened by human activity, such as land clearing, which has led to loss and fragmentation of their restricted habitat.
Protecting unique species in the GER corridor
GER is working with partner groups and landholders to protect and restore critical habitat for endemic and iconic species throughout the ranges. Reconnecting fragmented habitat patches across the landscape increases species’ chances of survival. For example, in the Kosciusko to Coast (K2C) region, partners are collaborating to plant 10,000 Drooping She-oaks, which are the main food source for the vulnerable glossy black-cockatoo. In the Capertee Valley in NSW, volunteers with GER partner Conservation Volunteers Australia have supported recovery efforts for the critically endangered regent honeyeater by weeding and planting in vital box-ironbark woodland habitat. GER also seeks to educate the community about iconic and endemic species in the GER corridor, and engage them directly in conservation through Citizen Science programs, such as the Great Koala Count.