After flying back from Perth last month, I decided that south-western Australia has more cause to be called an island than Tasmania, if an island is defined as a place where species survive in isolation. Tasmania last had a connection to the mainland about 14,000 years ago, while the South West has been cut from other forested regions by desert for far longer.
The South West stands out from the rest of Australia far more than Tasmania does. It doesn’t share any of its eucalypts with the rest of the country while Tasmania has a large overlap with Victoria. The South West has a few plant families to call its own, Tasmania none. As for special animals, the South West comes far ahead with its honey possum, salamanderfish, Western swamp turtle, red-capped parrot and turtle frog, to name a few. That all of these species are given their own genus is evidence for long isolation. Tasmanian devils and thylacines are very distinctive, but 10, 000 years ago the mainland had them as well.
I visited the South West to appear at the South Coast Festival of Birds in Albany, and to speak to Birdlife Australia in Perth. I used the opportunity to see some wildlife and talk with experts. I was fortunate to spend time in the field with two eminent biologists, Stephen Hopper from the University of Western Australia at Albany, and retired professor John Pate. Steve and John have both written important papers that propose new ways of thinking about plants.