Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Something New, but Old, from Australia’s Dead Heart

Credit: Peter McDonald

Spot the differences. On top is the newly recognised Oedura luritja, while at the bottom is Oedura cincta, another distantly related species that lives nearby with which it was long confused. Credit: Peter McDonald

By Paul Oliver & Peter McDonald

The identification of an ancient gecko species discovered hiding in Central Australia has provided new insights into how and when Australia’s deserts began to form 10 million years ago.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

“Soon after leaving his camp I had the gratification to discover a magnificent specimen of the fan palm growing in the channel of the watercourse, with the drift of floods washed against its stem; its dome-shaped frondage contrasting strangely with the paler green foliage of the gum trees that surrounded it. It was a perfectly new botanical feature to me, nor did I expect to have met it in this latitude.” – Ernest Giles, 30 August 1872

As someone familiar with the vegetation of the flat, dry and hot Australian deserts, the explorer Giles was surprised to discover a valley full of palms in the ranges of Central Australia. The nearest palms occurred hundreds of kilometres to the north, separated by vast expanses of unsuitable dry desert country.

Subsequent researchers have found dozens of similarly isolated species and populations of plants, snails, fish and other vertebrates in the ranges of Central Australia – “the Central Uplands”. Most are separated from their nearest relatives by hundreds or even thousands of kilometres.

How and when did these plants and animals become localised?

One idea is that, just at the Central Uplands have provided a critical refuge for animals and Aboriginal people during droughts, they have also provided a refuge from the great aridification of Australia over far longer timescales. While more...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.