Northern Australia & Trans-Fly Savannas

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Sunset glow in Madang, Papua New Guinea.
© WWF-Canon / Yifei ZHANG

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 6 terrestrial ecoregions: Cape York tropical savanna; Trans Fly savanna and grasslands; Kimberly tropical savanna; Einasleigh upland savanna; Carpentaria tropical savanna; and Arnhem Land tropical savanna.

While much of Australia is covered by grassland, savanna ecosystems are far more restricted - being limited to moister areas along the coast. The Kimberley, Top End, and Cape York savannas along the northern coast provide the best examples of this habitat type on the continent. Patches of dry rainforest with high species diversity also occur throughout the ecoregion.

Cape York is known for incredible species richness, harboring 60% of Australia’s butterflies. It is hard to miss male Cape York birdwing butterflies, with their emerald and black coloring and enormous 15 cm wingspans.

The Einasleigh area is the largest upland area in Queensland, Australia. The Great Basalt Wall is a unique geologic feature that was formed as lava flowed down the valley. Another geologically important feature is the Undara Lava Tubes, a series of hollow passageways formed by lava flow.

The rugged gorges and escarpments of the Arnhem Land, which lead people to call it the ‘stone country’, provide refuge for plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

Size:
1,137,000 sq. km (440,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

Geographic Location:
Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact

Local Species
The region abounds with a diversity of waterfowl, wading birds, reptiles, marsupials, rodents, and bats. Resident mammals, many of which are endemic, include such well-known species as the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), agile wallaby (Macropus agilis), and the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus). Extremely high numbers of migratory and resident waterfowl and wading birds are found here.

These include the comb-crested jacana (Irediparra gallinacea), great billed heron (Ardea sumatrana), green pygmy goose (Nettapus pulchellus), grey teal (Anas gracilis), plumed whistling-duck (endrocygna eytoni), wandering whistling-duck (D. arcuata), and the magpie goose (Anseranas semipalmata). Also found are Gouldian finches (Chloebia gouldiae), golden-shouldered parrots (Psephotus chrysopterygius), and freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstonii).

Trans Fly savanna and grasslands is home to 43 mammals, including 4 small marsupials whose ranges fall mostly or completely within this ecoregion: the Papuan planigale, bronze quoll, chestnut dunnart, and dusky pademelon.

One lizard, the Kimberly rock monitor, is found only in the Kimberly savanna area, and may grow to more than 80 cm (30 in) in length.

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), Australia.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest living marsupial. It is approximately 1.5 meters (5 ft) long and has a tail that measures about 100 cm (42 in). The tail is used as a balance mechanism. Red kangaroos cannot walk, but bounds on its hind legs, reaching speeds of up to 30 mph for short periods. The male red kangaroo is usually a reddish color and the female is bluish-gray. They also have excellent vision and hearing and a highly developed sense of smell which allows them to detect water sources.

They survive on grass and other vegetation. They are also able to go for long periods without water as long as they have access to green plants. However, in times of drought the population falls significantly.

Traveling in groups called mobs, they tend to be semi-nomadic and are led by a dominant male. These kangaroos generally rest during the midday and forage at night, mainly eating succulent grass shoots, herbs and leaves. Red kangaroos have been recorded living up to 22 years in the wild.

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Threats
The lack of fire management, feral animals and weeds, combine with grazing to pose threats to the biodiversity of this ecoregion. Invasive species such as weeds and cane toads threaten native species. The introduction of the non-native rusa deer has led to the destruction of grasslands. The area around Darwin, 1 of the largest and most industrialized Australian cities in the Northern Territory, is increasingly being developed for agriculture.
WWF’s work
Australia's forests and landscapes are some of the richest and most diverse in the world. From the lush tropical rainforests in the north to the delicate Southwest Australia Ecoregion, WWF-Australia is working to conserve native vegetation for future generations.

WWF’s programmes aim to eradicate land clearing - the greatest single threat to species in Australia - and reduce the effects of salinity and introduced species on the environment. Together with Australian communities, WWF also aims to expand protected areas and ensure land is well managed for the future.

A Greening Australia project, encourages farmers and their families to work together to rehabilitate their local landscape so that its ecological needs can be met while maintaining productive agricultural systems. The project enables land managers to think beyond the paddock and the farm, to gain an improved understanding of where their land fits into the landscape, and how it contributes to the environment as well as the economy and the social fabric of the community.

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