Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Responses of Non-volant Mammals to Late Quaternary Climatic Changes in the Wet Tropics Region of North-eastern Australia

J. W. Winter

Wildlife Research 24(5) 493 - 511
Published: 1997


It is generally recognised that the distribution of vertebrates in rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest of the Wet Tropics region of north-eastern Australia is profoundly influenced by the formation of two rainforest refugia at the height of Pleistocene glacial periods. Anomalies in the distribution of non-volant mammals indicate that other events may be equally important. In this paper, past geographical occurrence of non-volant mammals is examined by equating the mammals’ known temperature tolerance with palaeoclimatic temperature zones. It is hypothesised that dispersal and vicariant phases taking place since the most recent glacial period have had a profound influence on current patterns of distribution. A major dispersal phase of cool-adapted species occurred after the glacial period, and continuous populations were subsequently fragmented into upland isolates by expansion of warm rainforest during the late post-glacial period. These upland isolates remain substantially unchanged to the present day. Species shared either with New Guinea or south-eastern Australia arrived in the region during the most recent post-glacial period. Clarification of periods of vicariance and dispersal provides a conceptual framework for testing relative divergences of populations within and between regions.


© CSIRO 1997

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