With the world-wide decimation and degradation of nature, Australia stands out in having huge areas where native vegetation still stands and rivers still run freely. Australia harbours a substantial proportion of the 17% of the global land surface, excluding Antarctica, still relatively free of human influence (CIESIN 2002). In fact, in the three global biomes considered in this paper—(i) tropical/subtropical grasslands, shrublands and savannas, (ii) deserts and xeric shrublands, and (iii) Mediterranean forests, woodlands & scrub— Australia has the largest remaining wild areas of any country.
These large natural areas support some of the richest concentrations of flora and fauna found anywhere on Earth. Australia ranks first among all nations in the number of endemic mammal and reptile species, and among the top five in numbers of endemic plants, birds and amphibians.
However, these areas face threats. Already, Australia has one of the worst records of extinctions, particularly of mammals and vascular plants, and many species are threatened, including about 20% of mammals. The extinction process is ongoing, including in areas with high wilderness qualities.