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Terrestrial lifestyles

Ladd, P.G.ORCID: 0000-0002-7730-9685 and Garkaklis, M. (2009) Terrestrial lifestyles. In: Calver, M.C., Lymbery, A., McComb, J.A. and Bamford, M., (eds.) Environmental Biology. Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, pp. 519-536.


Granite rock formations are often prominent in Australian landscapes, for example in Girraween National Park in Queensland, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria and Mt Franklin in Western Australia. In arid areas waterholes in granite outcrops were significant in summer for Aboriginals (Plate 23.1).

There are considerable similarities between granite outcrops across a wide range of climates. All have poor soils of restricted volume, severe fluctuations between wet and dry conditions, low levels of soil nutrients, high insolation (light intensity) and exposure to strong winds. However, as in any harsh environment, species with specialist adaptations survive and even thrive.

Algae and lichens colonise the rock surface and may be overgrown by mosses. These plant forms and some ferns and flowering plants (such as the pincushion (Borya spp.) and the feather flower (Verticordia staminosa)) can desiccate completely in the dry season, but revitalise and function again hours after rewetting. More commonly, plants die down to seed or rootstock in the dry period. The insectivorous sundew (Drosera spp.), which catches and digests insects for extra nutrients, particularly nitrogen, survives summer as an underground tuber. Other plants such as the elbow orchid (Spiculea ciliata) are succulents, storing water to persist for some time into the summer. Shrubs and trees on granite outcrops use water conservatively most of the year and need access to rock cracks for water over the dry season.

Many invertebrates flourish in temporary pools on rocks and survive the dry season as eggs in the sediment. Terrestrial invertebrates are often flattened to find protection under rock plates. Few vertebrates live in these dry conditions. One, the rock dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus), does not need to drink for 80 days.

All these traits for survival under dry conditions are found in plants and animals occurring in the wider terrestrial landscape, but they are more accentuated in the harsh conditions on the rocks.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: © Michael Calver, Alan Lymbery, Jennifer McComb, Michael Bamford
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