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© Brent Stirton/Getty Images / WWF-UK

New Guinea animals and plants

from left to right: Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria), Short-tailed spotted cuscus or spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus), unidentified orchid

A natural laboratory for new creatures

Such diversity doesn’t just happen. As tectonic plates have shifted and climates undergone dramatic changes, New Guinea has seen a wide range of starkly different ecosystems form. A diverse range of endemic species - plants and animals found nowhere else in the world – have had ample time to evolve and thrive.

The difference in the wildlife make-up between New Guinea and the neighbouring islands is striking. Just as amazing however are the differences between the separate mountain ranges of New Guinea. Some have been sufficiently isolated over time to give rise to species unique to that area.1

Biodiversity peaks and troughs

Species groups have their comfort zones. Take plants for example. In New Guinea, the greatest diversity is seen in lowland forests. For birds, it’s the opposite - diversity increases as we go up in altitude. Meanwhile, mammals are at their most diverse in lower montane forest (1,000 - 2,000 m). Insects generally reach their greatest diversity in the 500 - 1,500 m range, and declining above this.2

Biologically diverse, but for how long?

New Guinea's forest wildlife is fortunate in that the island has been spared the ecological abuse witnessed in the Congo and Amazon basins. At the local level however, species such as birds of paradise and tree kangaroos are often under pressure from humans.

A closer look at New Guinea animals and plants…

1 Flannery T. 1994. The Future Eaters. Reed New Holland. 432 pp.
2 WWF. Forests of New Guinea - Papua New Guinea - A Mega-diversity Hot Spot. Accessed 11/12/2005