Toothbrushes and Tongues
Dense thickets of shrubs and heath plants, nurtured by a mild Mediterranean climate, grow on infertile sand plains along the coast from Cape Naturaliste to Perth. These species-rich communities are dominated by hard- and small-leaved plants that constitute the highest levels of endemism in Western Australia. Magnificent wildflowers are also found here, including yellow flame grevilleas, toothbrush grevilleas, light blue fanflowers, and cockiesâ tonguesöbright pink blossoms that look like tongues. The quandong (desert peach) has bright red blossoms, and banksia plants are found in abundance, including the bright yellow, cylindrical candle banksia and the red firewood banksia.
The name Kwongan is adapted from the Aboriginal language. The Kwongan ecoregion once covered 30 percent of the southwestern coast, but it has mostly been cleared now. Overall, the southwest of Australia has high rates of endemism, partially because the central desert functions as a barrier isolating this region from the moist eastern half of the country. The Kwongan Heathlands ecoregion shares similarities to the fynbos of South Africa, the Californian chaparral, the Chilean matorral, and the Mediterranean maquis. It may display even higher endemism than these communities, and it is unique because it grows on soil of poorer quality, in a hotter region.
From the large western gray kangaroo to the diminutive western pygmy possum, this region is full of marsupials. Western pygmy possums feed on insects and nectar while honey possums eat only nectar--the only mammal in the world to do so except for some bats. The honey possum thrives in the Kwongan Heathlands habitat, where the abundant wildflowers mean that nectar is available year-round. Also found here is the southern brown bandicoot, which uses its powerful forearms to dig for invertebrates and fungi. And if alarmed, the western brush wallaby wonât hang around. This speedy grazer is extremely agile, capable of weaving and sidestepping as it dashes across the ground. Large, flightless emus patrol the heathlands for seeds, fruits and flowers, and delicate western spinebills are common here, because they feed on the abundance of nectar.
Cause for Concern
The Kwongan Heathlands have been cleared for urban development and agriculture in more humid areas. Root disease (dieback) attacks some native plants found in the Kwongan Heathlands, such as grass trees and banksias. Global warming could threaten this region as the desert spreads southward and reduces the area of Mediterranean climate. A large portion of this region has such low-nutrient, sandy soils that it has not yet been subjected to agricultural development.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001