Aim To relate patterns of distribution of marine echinoderms and decapods around southern Australia to major ecological and historical factors.
Location Shallow-water (0–100 m) marine waters off southern Australia, south of 30° S.
Methods (1) Record the presence/absence of known echinoderm and decapod species in cells of c. 1° latitude and longitude, along the coast of southern mainland Australia and Tasmania. (2) Describe patterns in species composition, species richness and endemism through gradient analysis, ordination and cluster analysis. (3) Relate these patterns to distance and temperature gradients, the area of continental shelf, the average size of species range, and known historical factors.
Results Species composition varied with both latitude and longitude. Species richness was relatively constant from east to west but graded with latitude from high in the warm-temperate regions around Perth and Sydney to low in cool-temperate southern Tasmania. Species richness was not related to the area of continental shelf or average species range size. Species turnover was not correlated with rates of temperature change. It was problematic to separate distance from temperature gradients, but there was evidence that the southern distribution limits of some species are related to minimum sea surface temperature. Within the taxonomic groups surveyed, evolutionary radiation has been largely limited to a few cosmopolitan species-rich genera.
Main conclusions There are historical as well as ecological hypotheses explaining the latitudinal gradient of marine species richness in southern Australia: (1) the continual invasion and speciation of species of tropical origin as Australia has split from Gondwana and drifted northward; (2) progressive extinction of some Gondwanan cool-temperate species at the limits of their range; (3) low level of immigration of additional cool-temperate species; and (4) some in situ endemic speciation.