Why Australasian vertebrate animals are so unique – A palaeontological perspective
John A. Long
School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
Australasia has a unique fauna of living vertebrates, which include the oldest known species on the planet (the lungfish Neoceratodus) as well as many diverse, highly endemic families of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The origin of most of the Australian vertebrate fauna has developed from two phases. Firstly, when Australia was subsumed within the greater Gondwana landmass, migration of animals from one region to another was possible by a land connection. Many of our most primitive forms of reptiles and mammals probably entered the country at this time, such as varanids, madtsooid snakes, monotremes and basal marsupials. Secondly, following the breakup of Gondwana, the isolation of Australia for its last 40 million years and subsequent changing climatic conditions drove the radiation of marsupial, reptile and amphibian families within the continent. The gradual aridification of central Australia further divided the landmass into discrete regional areas characterised by rainfall, vegetation, and climatic zones.