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Ecoregion Description

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Species Richness

# of Endemic Species


807: Eastern Coastal Australia

Major Habitat Type:

temperate coastal rivers


Peter Unmack




This ecoregion is flanked in the west by the Great Dividing Range and runs along the eastern coast of Australia from Halifax Bay in the north to Wilsons Promontory in the south.

Drainages flowing into:

Coral and Tasman Seas

Main rivers or other water bodies:

The main coastal rivers in this ecoregion are from north to south the Burdekin, Fitzroy, Burnett, Mary, Brisbane, Clarence, Macleay, Hunter, Hawkesbury, Shoalhaven, Snowy, Tambo, Mitchell and Latrobe.


Elevations reach upwards of 1300 m asl along the Eastern Highlands, but elevation quickly decreases toward the coast.


Rainfall is highest in the north, but overall the northern basins in this ecoregion (Burdekin and Fitzroy) are the hottest and driest basins on the east coast of Australia. Generally speaking, rainfall increases moving south, but maximum summer temperature also decreases (Unmack 2001).

Freshwater habitats:

This ecoregion is moderately sized, covering 589,000 square kilometers or 7.5% of Australia. Rivers, streams, floodplains, wetlands, and highland lakes are the major freshwater habitats. Many of the rivers in this ecoregion experience seasonal flooding associated with high rainfall events. Streams in northern upland areas from the southern Burdekin River to the Burnett River tend to be intermittent, with upland areas gradually becoming more permanent with perennial flow in higher and wetter headwaters as one moves south. The lower reaches of most rivers have perennial flow, with high seasonal variability. Many of larger rivers have been impounded.

Terrestrial Habitats:

Eucalypt forests interspersed with patches of rainforest extend through much of the ecoregion, with heath and associated sandplain vegetation near the coast (World Wildlife Fund 2001). Small patches of tropical rainforest are found in the north.

Description of endemic fishes:

Neoceratodus forsteri, the Australian lungfish, occurs only in this ecoregion and is the only extant member of the family Neoceratodontidae, which is now endemic to this ecoregion following the extinction of the other six species in the family. One genus, Rhadinocentrus, is endemic. Families with multiple endemic species in this ecoregion are Percichthyidae, Eleotridae, and Melanotaeniidae (rainbowfishes). Australia’s only non-parasitic lamprey, Mordacia praecox, is endemic to this ecoregion.

Other noteworthy aquatic biotic elements:

Rheodytes leikops, the Fitzroy River turtle, is a monotypic genus endemic to the Fitzroy River. Elusor macrurus, the Mary River turtle, is a monotypic genus endemic to the Mary River. Elseya irwini, Irwin’s turtle, is endemic to the Burdekin River; Elseya georgesi, Georges’ turtle, is endemic to the Bellinger River; and Elseya purvisi, Purvis’ turtle, is endemic to the Manning River. The Fitzroy River contains six species of turtles, the second highest for a single drainage in Australia (Cann, 1998).

The swamp crayfish genus Tenuibranchiurus (currently monotypic; revision in progress) is confined to a small area in southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales (Horwitz 1995; Coughran 2006). Thirty-nine species of Euastacus are found in this ecoregion, of which 33 (E. australasiensis, E. bidawalus, E. bindal, E. brachythorax, E. clarkae, E. dalagarbe, E. dangadi, E. dharawalus, E. diversus, E. eungella, E. girurmulayn, E. gumar, E. guruhgi, E. guwinus, E. hirsutus, E. hystricosus, E. jagabar, E. jagara, E. maidae, E. mirangudjin, E. monteithorum, E. neohirsutus, E. pilosus, E. polysetosus, E. reductus, E. simplex, E. sulcatus, E. setosus, E. spinichelatus, E. spinifer, E. urospinosus, E. valentulus and E. yanga) are endemic (Morgan 1986, 1988, 1989, 1997; Coughran 2002, 2005b; Coughran & Leckie 2007). An as yet undescribed Geocharax species occurs in central New South Wales (Horwitz 1995). Eight species of the crayfish genus Cherax occur in the ecoregion (C. cairnsensis, C. cuspidatus, C. dispar, C. depressus, C. leckii, C. punctatus, C. robustus, C. setosus), all of them endemic (Austin 1996; Coughran 2005a). A ninth, currently undescribed species of Cherax has also been identified (Munasinghe et al. 2004). Eleven species of Engaeus occur in the ecoregion, of which three are endemic: E. mallacoota, E. orientalis and E. rostrogaleatus (Horwitz 1990). The remainder extend into the Murray-Darling and/or Bass Strait Drainages ecoregions.

Evolutionary phenomena:

This province is home to Neoceratodus forsteri, the Australian lungfish, a living fossil from an ancient lineage that was once widespread across the globe. Its native range includes the Mary and Burnett rivers. At least two species (Scleropages leichardti, spotted saratoga; Oxyeleotris lineolata, sleepy cod) have disjunct southern populations in the Fitzroy River from other congeners or conspecifics, respectively; other related species or populations are otherwise only found in more northern drainages.

Justification for delineation:

The northern boundary of this ecoregion is marked by a steep decline in species richness and the disappearance of thirteen species between northeastern Queensland and the Burdekin River. The southern boundary is in the vicinity of Wilsons Promontory, which marks the approximate eastern limit of six species. This large province is unusual in that few clear faunal barriers within it exist, yet the fauna at the northern and southern extremes have no species in common. Movement between many basins is likely difficult due to the narrow continental shelf, however, some species do appear to be moving more frequently, suggesting they have some mechanism for movement via the ocean (Unmack 2001). Climate and ecology likely play an important role in determining distributional limits within this province as there is a distinct cline involving the loss and gain of northern and southern species respectively as one compares the fauna of drainages from north to south. However, few of these species share any common distributional boundaries (Unmack 2001).

Level of taxonomic exploration:

Overall taxonomic exploration is good. However, many species within this province remain poorly studied and recent evidence suggests several undescribed taxa exist within more widespread forms. These include species in the groups Galaxias, Retropinna, Tandanus, Rhadinocentrus, Pseudomugil signifer (southern blue-eye), Macquaria australasica (Macquarie perch), Nannoperca, Hypseleotris, and Mogurnda (Raadik 2005; Hammer et al. 2007; Jerry & Woodland 1997; Page et al. 2004; Wong et al. 2004; Unmack 2005; Thacker et al. 2007; M. Adams, unpub data).


Austin, C. M. (1996). "Systematics of the freshwater crayfish genus Cherax Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in south-western Australia: electrophoretic, morphological and habitat variation" Australian Journal of Zoology 44 223-58.

Cann, J. (1998). "Australian freshwater turtles" Singapore: Beaumont Publishing.

Coughran, J. (2005). "Cherax leckii n. sp. (Decapoda: Parastacidae): a new crayfish from coastal, northeastern New South Wales" Fishes of Sahul 19(4) 191-196.

Coughran, J. (2005). "New crayfishes (Decapoda: Parastacidae: Euastacus) from northeastern New South Wales, Australia" Records of the Australian Museum 57(3) 361-374.

Coughran, J. (2002). "A new species of the freshwater crayfish genus Euastacus (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from northeastern New South Wales, Australia" Records of the Australian Museum 54(1) 25-30.

Coughran, J. (2006). "Biology of the Freshwater Crayfishes of Northeastern New South Wales, Australia" Unpublished Thesis. School of Environmental Science & Management, Southern Cross University.

Coughran, J.,Leckie, S. (2007). "Euastacus pilosus n. sp., a new crayfish from the highland forests of northern New South Wales, Australia" Fishes of Sahul 21(1) 308-316.

Horwitz, P. (1990). "A taxonomic revision of species in the freshwater crayfish genus Engaeus Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae)" Invertebrate Taxonomy 4 427-614.

Jerry, D. R.,Woodland, D. J. (1997). "Electrophoretic evidence for the presence of the undescribed ‘Bellinger’ catfish (Tandanus sp.) (Teleostei: Plotosidae) in four New South Wales mid-northern coastal rivers" Marine and Freshwater Research 48 235-240.

Morgan, G. J. (1997). "Freshwater crayfish of the genus Euastacus Clark (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from New South Wales, with a key to all species of the genus" Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 23

Morgan, G. J. (1988). "Freshwater crayfish of the genus Euastacus Clark (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from Queensland" Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 49(1) 1-49.

Morgan, G. J. (1989). "Two new species of the freshwater crayfish Euastacus Clark (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from isolated high country of Queensland" Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 27(2) 368-388.

Munasinghe, D. H. N., Burridge, C. P., et al. (2004). "Molecular phylogeny and zoogeography of the freshwater crayfish genus Cherax Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in Australia" Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 81 553-563.

Page, T. J., Sharma, S., et al. (2004). "Deep phylogenetic structure has conservation implications for ornate rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae: Rhadinocentrus ornatus) in Queensland, eastern Australia" Marine and Freshwater Research 55 165-172.

Raadik, T. A. (2005). "Dorrigo Plateau – a biodiversity “hot spot” for galaxiids" Fishes of Sahul 19 98-107.

Thacker, C., Unmack, P. J., et al. (2007). "Comparative phylogeography of five sympatric Hypseleotris species (Teleostei: Eleotridae) in southeastern Australia reveals a complex pattern of drainage basin exchanges with little congruence across species" Journal of Biogeography 34(9) 1518-1533.

Unmack, P. J. (2001). "Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes" Journal of Biogeography 28(9) 1053-1089.

Wong, B. B. M., Keogh, J. S., et al. (2004). "Current and historical patterns of drainage connectivity in eastern Australia inferred from population genetic structuring in a widespread freshwater fish Pseudomugil signifer (Pseudomugilidae)" Molecular Ecology 13 391–401.

World Wildlife, Fund (2001). "Eastern Australian temperate forests (AA0402)" 2005 (2005;

The Nature Conservancy World Wildlife Fund
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