5 Evolution of Australian Biota
8.5.1 Evidence for the rearrangement of crustal plates and continental drift indicates that Australia was once part of an ancient super continent


Identify and describe evidence that supports the assertion that Australia was once part of a landmass called Gondwana, including: o Matching continental margins o Position of mid-ocean ridges o Spreading zones between continental plates o Fossils in common on Gondwana continents, including Glossopteris and Gangamopteris flora, and marsupials o Similarities between present-day organisms on Gondwana continents Alfred Wegner proposed a theory of continental drift to explain how the continents were once joined together in large landmasses. One of the landmasses was Gondwana, which comprised of the continents in the southern hemisphere as well as India. Evidence for continental drift include: o Matching continental margins o Fossils in common on Gondwanan continents o Similarities between present-day organisms on Gondwanan continents o Similarity of marsupial South American opossums and Australian possums o Lung fish in Africa, South America and Australia o Large flightless birds such as the rhea in South America, the emu and cassowary in Australia, and the ostrich in Africa o Distribution of some ancient plants such as Antarctic beech (Nothofagus) in South America, Africa and Australia o Fossil remains in Antarctica that seem to indicate that these three continents were once part of the same continent (Gondwana) o Distribution of ancient glacial tracks across continents o Similar rock formations across continents Plate tectonics explains how the continents move. Evidence for plate tectonics include: o Distribution of mid-ocean ridges o Patterns in the magnetism trapped in rocks on ocean floors o The production of the ocean floor at mid-ocean ridges and the spreading of the ocean floor o The distribution of earthquakes and volcanic activity Discuss current research into the evolutionary relationships between extinct species, including megafauna and extant Australian species o Megafauna once roamed the continent of Australia that were much larger than those that exist today. o Scientist Tim Flannery argues that Australia's megafauna were much smaller on average than megafauna found in other parts of the world. o The largest was the diprotodon (giant wombat). o More than 20 species of large kangaroos (now extinct). o More than 10 species of short-faced kangaroos.

Identify changes in the distribution of Australian species. may have fed as a scavenger. Proteaceae and casuarinas) existed in this rainforest ecosystem. Identify and describe evidence of changing environments in Australia over millions of years When Australia separated from Gondwana. Flannery estimates it to weigh 60kg. The dry season is from April to October. the rainforests had been eliminated west of the Great Dividing Range. For example. The offspring are more likely to survive because they have those genes. humidity is low and largest rivers are dry. however rainfall is rare. Variation is caused by genetics. conditions in Australia slowly changed. Identify the relationship between variation within a species and the chances of survival of species when environmental change occurs Variation increases the chance of survival of individuals within a species as some have genes and adaptations that enable it to survive when the environment changes. the variety of dogs shows a wide variation between individuals of a species. Identify areas within Australia that experience significant variations in temperature and water availability Northern Australia is strongly affected by tropical monsoonal weather. Largest marsupial carnivore was thylacaleo (the marsupial lion). about the size of a medium-sized dog. These genes are passed on to the offspring. 8. very high humidity and floods.g. The dry poor soil favoured the sclerophyll plants. Some are small while others are big. The rainforests were replaced mainly by Casuarina forests. From about 25 million years ago. Main carnivores were reptiles that fed on herbivores and did only required a lowenergy diet which may have helped them to survive.o o o o o There were very few carnivore among Australia s megafauna. a greater variety of primitive sclerophyll plants are evident in the fossil record. as rainforests contracted and sclerophyll communities and grasslands spread. As Australia continued to drift north. Darwin has 2 seasons wet and dry. Pollen. this may have been due to Australia s poor soil which produced poor vegetation for herbivores to eat.5. By about 2 million years ago. The temperature is still high. cyclone. Second largest marsupial carnivore was the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). The wet season is from November to April with high temperatures. they find it most difficult to survive when food is scarce. As carnivores are at the top of the food web. some may only have black fur while others may have a combination of different colours. as indicated by fossil evidence . storms. This enables the survival of a species. it was covered in rainforest. but across Australia rainforests dominated.2 The changes in Australian flora and fauna over millions of years have happened through evolution y y y y y Discuss examples of variation between members of a species Variation describes the differences in the characteristics of individuals within a population (species). The rainforests were dominated by varieties of Antarctic beech (Nothofagus). which makes it smaller than some domesticated dogs. fruit and leaf fossils indicate that about 40 million years ago ancestors of modern Australian plants (e. the environment or a combination of both.

organisms with variations suited to the change are more likely to survive o Surviving organisms pass characteristics on to future generations o If the change is significant a new species is formed Present information from secondary sources to discuss the Huxley-Wilberforce debate on Darwin s theory of evolution o Darwin s book The Origin of Species caused great uproar in the community. Until about 200 years ago.y y y The sclerophyll plants that dominated the Casuarina forests were well adapted to the dry poor soils but they were destroyed by fire. Darwin commented on the similarity between marsupials and animals living in similar habitats in the northern hemisphere. Much of the sclerophyll forest and woodland was also replaced by grasses for introduced grazing animals or plant crops. 8. each side arguing they point of view of evolution o The most famous of these is the debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. i n part. Discuss current theories that provide a model to account for these changes o Continental drift: explains climate change o Natural Selection: Favouring those species most suited to the changing environment. casuarina forests had been replaced by grasslands in the arid interior and eucalypt woodlands and forests. from the reproductive adaptations that have evolved in Australian plants and animals y Distinguish between the processes of meiosis and mitosis in terms of the daughter cells produced . rainforests remained widespread only east of the Great Dividing Range and in Tasmania. He studied the organism s adaptations to their environments.3 Continuation of species has resulted. these survived to pass on their genes to the next generation Discuss Darwin s observations of Australian flora and fauna and relate these to his theory of evolution While on his travels. Darwin s theory of natural selection can be applied to Australia: o If environment changes. o Huxley replied that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than a person who uses their intelligence to introduce ridicule into a grave scientific discussion . From his observations of Australia s flora and fauna. He described this as convergent evolution. Within 100 years of their arrival. o Wilberforce: Rocks pigeons were what rock pigeons had always been o Wilberforce asked Huxley whether it was his grandmother or his grandfather that came from a monkey. However. This type of evolution produces organisms that look alike because they live in similar environments and therefore have the same selective pressures acting on them. Europeans had cleared most of the rainforest either to obtain timber or for farm land. Darwin collected many specimens and fossils. as indicated by increases in carbon deposits. By 10 000 years ago. they are not closely related. About 40 000 years ago. especially among religious clergy o Several debates happened. This resulted in natural selection of fire-adapted species. the fire frequency increased further.5.

Describe some mechanisms found in Australian flora for: o Pollination o Seed dispersal o Asexual reproduction with reference to local examples o External fertilisation is successful in water. Less chance of fertilisation. repair and cell replacement 1 Same Meiosis 4 Sex organs of animals and plants Produce gametes or sex cells 2 Half y Compare and contrast external and internal fertilisation y y Discuss the relative success of these forms of fertilisation in relation to the colonisation of terrestrial and aquatic environments Colonisation in aquatic environments is very successful. encouraging fertilisation o Also. enabling successful colonisation of large areas of water. . which the millions secreted gives a better chance.Number of daughter cells produced Type of cells in this process occurs in Purpose of this type of cell division Number of divisions involved Relative number of chromosomes present in daughter cells compared to parent cells Mitosis 2 All body cells Growth. as the gametes can spread very far and wide in the water. Colonisation in terrestrial environments has only been possible by the developed mechanisms that ensure successful transfer of gametes to the ovum without the need of external water. increasing the chances meeting other gametes from the opposite gender. because the millions of gametes secreted enable the young produced to spread and colonise. zygotes are able to spread to large areas.

eventually only returning to suckle.y y y External fertilisation would not succeed on land. as there is no water through which the male gametes can swim. where it attaches to the teat. it fends for itself.4 A study of palaeontology and past environments increases our understanding of the possible future range of plants and animals . there has been little waste in energy and the adult can just simply try again. it leaves the pouch for longer and longer period.5. Explain how the evolution of these reproductive adaptations has increased the chances of continuity of the species in the Australian environment The red kangaroo benefits from these reproductive adaptations as they can reproduce rapidly. Also. After birth. Animals have evolved adaptations that allow them to time reproduction for when the conditions are good. Soon after this. o Without the need for external water for fertilisation. Describe conditions under which asexual reproduction is advantageous. conditions in Australia s arid regions do not follow an annual seasonal pattern. Their adaptations also allow to time and manage reproduction so that the chances of producing a new generation are high. with reference to specific Australian examples The conditions in which asexual reproduction is advantageous is when large numbers are required to recolonise an area or when something is needed to be repaired. as the watery environment needed is provided by the female s physiology. the birth rate increases and the kangaroo population rapidly increases. The red kangaroo population drops during drought. the embryo rapidly develops. Once food becomes available. as the buoyancy of water is not there to support their travelling. As the joey develops. This is affected by environmental conditions. In the red kangaroo population. with virtually no births. This means that if the offspring dies soon after birth (possibly due to the lack of food). The marsupial method of reproduction involves a short gestation period followed by development in the pouch. yet expend relatively little resources should their young die. Advantageous when resources are scarce. and the gametes would not spread very far. This method of reproduction is an advantage if nutrition is poor. Vertebrates and insects such as spitfire wasps and Bynoe s gecko that reproduce by parthenogenesis are advantaged because they need not waste resources to find a mate and the environment need not support a useless male population. o 8. Another embryo develops in the uterus. even the driest environments could be colonised. the embryo stops developing and is held in this state of storage. it pulls itself to the pouch. o Internal fertilisation enabled the colonisation of land. if the conditions are harsh. Describe some mechanisms found in Australian fauna to ensure: o Fertilisation o Survival of embryo and of the young after birth Australian fauna has evolved over time to adopt a variety of reproductive strategies including sexual and asexual methods of reproduction. When conditions are good.

Time dwarfism species populations get smaller in size over time. Similarly. Humans arrived to Australia at least 40 000 years ago. Main threats to biodiversity: o Loss.  Fossils of megafauna have been found and dates estimated to ba as recent as 6000-10 000 years ago. Identify the ways in which palaeontology assists understanding of the factors that may determine distribution of flora and fauna in present and future environments Palaeontology is the study of fossils. o Problems with theory:  If humans and megafauna coexisted.y y y Explain the importance of the study of past environments in predicting the impact of human activity in present environments o The extinction of megafauna coincided with the arrival of humans. tertiary institutions and community groups to ensure the protection of our native species . we also select the largest to keep and often return the smallest. Explain the need to maintain biodiversity The maintenance of biodiversity among populations is important as it increases the potential for evolution and maintains a varied resource for humans to use. o Showing no fear. Australia s biodiversity makes a significant contribution to its economy and is essential to our identity and culture. fragmentation and degradation of habitat o Spread of invasive species o Unstainable use of natural resources o Climate change o Deliberate fires o Changes to aquatic environment and water flows Current efforts to monitor biodiversity: o o o The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Global and regional conventions and treaties and bilateral agreements Australian Government is working in partnership with state and local governments. If there was no diversity in species. We cull kangaroos to reduce their population. a disease could ultimately wipe out the whole species. and if humans hunted them to extinction. Palaeontology has suggested that such a series of events occurred in the past. there should be remains of humans and megafauna found together in the fossil record. large herds of diprotodons would have been easy target for humans to hunt. o Animals may have not seen humans as a threat or predators. when we fish. often selecting and killing the largest. non-government organisations. It provides information about the past and allows scientists to make predictions about the future.

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