Journal of Tropical Ecology

Distribution patterns of vertebrates in relation to an extensive rainfall gradient and variation in soil texture in the tropical savannas of the Northern Territory, Australia

J.C.Z.  Woinarski a1c1, A.  Fisher a1 and D.  Milne a1
a1 Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, Northern Territory, 0831, Australia


The abundance, richness and species composition of frog, reptile, bird and mammal faunas varied along an extensive gradient from 470 to 1406 mm annual rainfall, and between three contrasting soil types (clay, loam and sand) in northern Australia. Patterns varied between and within vertebrate classes. In general, the most fertile soils in the highest rainfall sites supported the greatest species richness and abundance, but this association with fertility broke down at lower rainfall sites. Frogs were richest and most abundant at high rainfall sites, especially on clay soils, presumably because these had greatest water availability. Clay soils supported few reptile species, but these were often at relatively high abundance. High rainfall sites supported the richest reptile faunas. On sand and loam soils, bird species richness varied little along the rainfall gradient, but richness declined very substantially on clay soils. This was probably largely due to the far more marked vegetation structural change on clay soils than on other substrates. Few mammals were reported, and no clear trends were associated with either rainfall gradient or soil texture. Turnover in species composition along the rainfall gradient was gradual and limited on sand and loam soils, but far more marked on clay soils. There were few cases of replacements of ecologically comparable species along the gradient. These patterns reflect the disparate history, fragmentation and landscape positioning of clay soil environments, relative to the far more homogeneous eucalypt-dominated vegetation on sand and loam soils. Although comparable studies are lacking on other continents, patterns revealed here may be idiosyncratic due to the virtual monopolisation by eucalypts of the environment across the very extensive rainfall gradient.

(Accepted February 3 1999)

Key Words: Australia; birds; diversity; frogs; mammals; rainfall gradient; reptiles; savanna; soil.

c1 E-mail: