Southwest Australia is a biodiversity hotspot. It occupies about 137,729 square miles or 356,717 square kilometers on the southwestern tip of Australia. Because this hotspot is one of only five Mediterranean-type ecosystems in the world, most of the rain falls during the winter months and the summers are dry. The vegetation in the region is mainly woody and includes forests, woodlands, shrublands, and heathlands, but no grasslands. The region hosts a great diversity of endemic (native) species, notably among the protea family. One of the most serious current threats (as of 2009) to the natural vegetation of Southwest Australia is the spread of root disease, or "jarrah dieback" caused by the root fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi.
The greatest human impact to Southwest Australia has been the clearing of native vegetation for agriculture. Agriculture development began in 1829, with the arrival of the first European settlers in the region. However, because of the poor soils, development progressed slowly until the 1890s, when phosphate fertilizers were introduced. In 2008-2009, most usable private land in the region is
farmed. Although, it requires the application of phosphate, as well as cobalt, zinc, and copper. Because of the region’s long dry seasons, bush fires have been a traditional way to hunt or clear land.
Inhabitants of Southwest Australia
In Southwest Australia, there are around 5,571 different species of plants. Out of those, only 2,948 (about 53 percent) species of plants are endemic. Endemic means that those species are only found in one certain area, which in this case would be Southwest Australia.
Now, a vertebrate is any animal with a backbone. In Southwest Australia there are around 573 different types of vertebrate species. Imagine that! 5,571 different types of plants, but only 573 types of vertebrates!
In this Australian hotspot, there are around 59 different types of mammals. Only 12 of these species are endemic.
In Southwest Australia, there are about 285 species of birds. Out of those, only 10 species are endemic.
In Southwest Australia, there are about 177 different species of reptiles. 27 of these are endemic.
In this Australian hotspot there are 32 types of amphibians. 22 of these are endemic.
How This Hotspot is Protected
About 14,671 miles squared or 38,000 kilometers squared (about 11 percent) of Southwest Australia is under some form of official protection. However, many reserves are too small or not strong enough to fully protect biological resources. One of the greatest opportunities for long term conservation lies in Southwest Australia because of its low population.