Historical Records of Australian Science Historical Records of Australian Science Society
The history of science, pure and applied, in Australia, New Zealand and the southwest Pacific

Lizards of the Australian Deserts: Uncovering an Extraordinary Ecological Story

S. R. Morton and A. J. Emmott

Historical Records of Australian Science 25(2) 217 - 226
Published: 11 November 2014


For 150 years after European settlement of Australia there were no indications that the lizards of the Australian deserts might be exceptional in their species diversity and ecology. However, from the 1950s to the present, and especially from the 1970s, there has been acceleration in the rate of description of new species, a process likely to push the number known from the deserts past 400. Systematic work led rapidly to ecological research showing that the most diverse assemblages of lizards on Earth occur in the spinifex deserts, a phenomenon leading to considerable debate among ecologists on causal mechanisms. Appreciation of the extraordinary nature of the Australian desert lizards has come about through four developments: a cadre of dedicated systematists; explosive expansion in technologies for molecular analysis of species relationships; opening-up of the spinifex country to four-wheel-drive transport; and the vigorous efforts of a few dedicated ecologists.


© Australian Academy of Science 2014

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