The Ancient Forests and Unique Wildlife of Tasmania

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Tasmania is a unique island situated below the southeastern tip of Australia. It boasts pristine landscapes ranging from stunning coastlines and ancient forests to rugged mountains. The unique wildlife of Tasmania and it’s ancient forests are partly a result of the island becoming separated from the mainland post the last ice age, isolation for over 12,000 years has resulted in a most distinctive ecosystem.

The Climate

Tasmania geographical location in the path of the roaring forties divides the island’s climate: the west has strong winds and heavy rainfall while the east is calmer and drier. The ancient forests and unique wildlife of Tasmania are contribute to its status as an island worthy of it’s many world heritage area status.

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The weather can get pretty wild throughout Tasmania

Biodiversity

The island is rich in biodiversity, with a varied plant and animal life. The rocky headlands of its northeastern coast are made up of granite, which erodes over time to form pure white sands. This coastline is also rich with lichens, shorebirds, and migratory Humpback Whales, which stop in Tasmania’s waters to feed on krill.

One of the most iconic Tasmanian animals is the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). This carnivorous marsupial is known for its strong jaws, ferocious appetite, and distinct black fur with white markings. The Devil is currently under threat from Devil Facial Tumor Disease.

The Tasmanian devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world since the extinction of the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which was another endemic species of Tasmania.

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The Tasmanian Devil is under threat from an aggressive facial cancer

The thylacine was a unique carnivorous marsupial with a dog-like appearance, a stiff tail, and stripes across its back, leading to its common name, the Tasmanian tiger. Despite extensive searches, there has been no confirmed sighting of a thylacine since the last known individual died in captivity in 1936, and it is considered extinct.

Other notable endemic species include the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi), which is a subspecies of the wedge-tailed eagle but larger and darker than its mainland counterparts. The Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), a small marsupial with a stocky build and a short tail, is also endemic to the region and plays a significant role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and maintaining forest undergrowth.

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The magnificent Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Marine life around Tasmania is equally fascinating, with a range of unique species found in its waters. The spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) is a critically endangered fish species endemic to the estuarine and coastal waters of southeastern Tasmania. It is known for its unusual mode of locomotion, “walking” on the seabed with its pectoral fins.

Tasmania’s national parks and reserves offer opportunities to observe these unique species in their natural habitats, emphasizing the importance of conservation efforts to protect biodiversity.

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Tasmania’s National Park regions and ancient forests are full of surprises, beauty and wonder

Tasman Peninsula

Prominent landmarks include the tall sea cliffs of the Tasman Peninsular and the unique rock formations formed by volcanic activity. Marine life around these coasts include Australian Fur Seals, which almost went extinct in the 1800s but have since seen a resurgence.

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Tasman National Park

Tasmania’s west houses the country’s largest temperate rainforests, teeming with mosses, lichens, and a diverse range of animals. Animals like Pademelons and the now-extinct Thylacine once thrived here. Other terrains, like the Buttongrass moorlands, are expansive and adapt to regular fires, ensuring their spread.

The island also houses impressive Mountain Ash forests, home to the world’s tallest flowering plant. These forests, carbon-rich, play a crucial role in the ecosystem, supporting birds like the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo and a myriad of fungi species.

Among Tasmania’s islands, Bruny Island stands out. It has an array of unique animals, including the world’s rarest geese and a peculiar population of white Wallabies, a result of a rare genetic mutation.

Ancient Forests

Tasmania’s ancient forests are part of a unique ecosystem that has evolved over millennia, largely due to the island’s isolation from mainland Australia for over 12,000 years following the last ice age. These forests are characterized by their rich biodiversity, including a variety of ancient tree species and a wide array of flora and fauna, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

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Eucalyptus Regnans the World’s tallest flowering species

The ancient tree family Taxodiaceae is represented by species such as the King Billy pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides), pencil pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides), and the long-lived huon pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii), with some individuals being over 2,000 years old. These forests are dominated by one of the world’s rare temperate rainforests, with Nothofagus (primitive southern beech) species being a significant element at both lowland and higher elevations. The ecoregion is also home to Eucalyptus regnans, the world’s tallest flowering plant, reaching heights of over 100 meters.

Other notable species include Australia’s only winter-deciduous tree, Nothofagus gunnii, myrtle beech (N. cunninghamii), sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum), and a variety of pines such as the celery-top pine (Phyllocladus asplenifolius) and chestnut pine (Diselma archeri).

Rainforest Mix

The rainforest is often intermixed with areas that have shifted to mature eucalypt forests due to frequent burning. These forests have a tall understory of various shrubs and small trees, contributing to the region’s biodiversity. Over 700 species of vascular plants and around 300 largely epiphytic lichens have been recorded in these ancient forests, with high levels of endemism, particularly in areas that were formerly glaciated.

Rainforest Fauna

The fauna of Tasmania’s ancient forests includes mammals like the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), and the Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii). Birdlife is rich and includes species such as the green rosella (Platycercus caledonicus), olive whistler (Pachycephala olivacea), and the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster). The forests are also home to unique invertebrates like the giant velvet worm (Tasmanipatus barretti) and the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate, the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish (Astacopsis gouldi).

Conservation efforts are crucial for the protection of these ancient ecosystems. Approximately 58% of all remaining rainforests are protected in conservation areas, but challenges such as wildfires, logging, and disease threaten these unique habitats. Key conservation actions for the future include expanding the protected area network to cover all habitat types, phasing out logging, banning mining in sensitive areas like the Tarkine region, and strengthening species recovery programs for critically endangered species like the Tasmanian devil and the orange-bellied parrot.

Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is one of the largest conservation reserves in Australia, covering nearly 1.6 million hectares. It’s renowned for its pristine natural environments, encompassing a rich mosaic of rainforest, alpine regions, and wild rivers. This area is also significant for its Aboriginal heritage, with numerous sites that are of cultural and spiritual importance.

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A Rainbow over the Lake on the Waldheim to Waterfall Valle leg of the Overland Track

Still Under Threat

Despite its natural beauty and biodiversity, Tasmania’s isolation hasn’t protected it from human-induced threats. Since European settlement, numerous species have gone extinct, and hundreds are now under threat. While a significant portion of the island is designated as National Parks and conservation reserves, it still faces challenges, especially from the global climate crisis. The preservation of Tasmania’s rich legacy largely depends on human interventions and global cooperation.

Check out

How Tasmania’s Geology Rewrites History

From Nuna to Now: How Tasmania’s Geology Rewrites Continental History

Forests of Lutruwita / Tasmania – (Wilderness Society article) These forests support some of Australia’s most iconic species. Sadly, these forests are under threat. They have an ancient history—let’s make sure they have a living future

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