Heathlands

Vegetation formation map


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Key:
<1%
1-10%
10-50%
>50%
Estimated percentage landcover for vegetation formation

Overview

Despite having a restricted distribution, heathlands are associated with some of Australia’s most distinctive and inspirational coastal and mountain scenery. Shrubs and heaths dominate the vegetation, while grasses and trees are conspicuously scarce. Copious amounts of pollen and nectar attract a diverse array of nectar-feeding birds and mammals, which also feed on insects drawn by the abundance of flowers. The flora of the heathlands has an unmistakable Gondwandan heritage, with virtually every common species belonging to southern-hemisphere families and orders.

Heathlands share many features with the shrubby subformation of dry sclerophyll forests, with the distinguishing feature being a lack of trees. Soils are generally shallow, sandy, and low in nutrients, particularly those vital for plant growth, such as phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and magnesium. As with dry sclerophyll forests, low nutrients produce slow growth rates, and many plants exhibit adaptations to enhance uptake, including specialised roots and symbiotic relationships with bacteria and fungi. The unproductiveness of the soils has largely protected heathlands from agricultural development.

Heathlands are highly fire prone and the fire regime (frequency, intensity, and season of occurrence) has an enormous effect on composition and structure of habitat. Animals too are affected by this regime. Increasing time since fire may create a variety of habitats within the heath that suit different species, while mass post-fire flowering provides an abundance of food.

Most heathland plants produce large seeds packed with nutrients, to ensure successful establishment under the harsh conditions, which prevents dispersal by wind or in the fur or feathers of vertebrates. This obstacle is overcome via specialised structures on the seed that provide lipid-rich food for ants. Ants collect the seeds and store them in their nests, later detaching the food bundles and discarding the seeds. This dispersal and burial of seed protects them from seed predators and intense bushfires, while increasing access to soil moisture. Dispersal over short distances may have been important factors contributing to the high levels of endemism that are characteristic of heathland floras.

Threatened species in this vegetation formation

See a list of species, populations and ecological communities associated with the Heathlands formation.

Find species in a more specific vegetation class

The Heathlands formation can be divided into the following classes. Select a vegetation class on the list below to see a list of species associated with it: