Importance of protecting our biodiverse south west

The South West Australia Ecoregion is one of only two Global Biodiversity Hotspots in Australia. Although the region covers only five percent of the Australian land mass, this area contains about 8,000 plant species, more than half of which are found nowhere else.

This corner of the continent, stretching from Shark Bay in the north to Esperance on the south coast is also home to a variety of unique fauna, including the numbat, western swamp tortoise and the tiny honey possum, which feeds on the nectar of flowering plants.

“International biodiversity hotspot status recognises the ecosystem richness of this part of the world, but also that many of the flora and fauna are under serious threat,” says Professor Stephen Hopper AC, Professor of Biodiversity at UWA’s Albany Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management.

Eminent plant conservation biologist Professor Stephen Hopper AC

“This region has Australia’s highest concentration of rare and endangered species, and about two thirds of the known threatened plants are found in the subdued uplands.

“This means that landscapes such as the ancient granite outcrops, lateritic mesas and elevated sandplains deserve greater focus than lowland sites such as those flanking beaches, rivers and lakes.

“These uplands are also known to be of great cultural significance to the Noongar people.

As more recreational trail networks are developed in the south west, including trails for mountain bikers, Professor Hopper urges caution, emphasising the importance of careful planning.

“Our uplands, with their extraordinary biodiversity, have the moderate slopes which mountain bikers tend to favour but a clear conservation priority must be to ensure the uplands have special protection,” he said.

“Mountain bike trails should be kept to the lowermost slopes of hills, well away from the summits and rocky outcrops replete with threatened species and small plants requiring special conservation management.

“Another aspect of responsible mountain biking in the south west is to not create informal trails off the approved trails.

“Many of the plants have complex biology and informal trails, formed if mountain bike riders deviate from established trails, can be very destructive,” he said.

Professor Hopper is a WA Parks Foundation Park Ambassador.