Australia's marine biogeography revisited: Back to the future?



The recognition of broad biogeographic provinces provides an important framework for ecological and conservation biological research. Marine biologists have long recognized distinct biogeographic provinces in southern Australia, primarily on the basis of qualitative differences in intertidal species assemblages. Here we provide an a priori test for these traditional eastern (Peronian), western (Flindersian) and south-eastern (Maugean) provinces. Specifically, we analyse distributional data for approximately 1500 algal species using the newly available Australian Virtual Herbarium, an online database of herbarium specimens. Our quantitative algal analyses across southern Australia identify three distinct biogeographic assemblages, consistent with traditional qualitative provinces. We argue that these broad provinces provide a highly effective framework for understanding and managing Australia's marine biodiversity. In particular, biogeographic provinces provide a regional framework for integrating the ongoing discovery of biological variation at finer scales. More broadly therefore we recommend that biologists undertake quantitative analyses to test provincial biogeographic boundaries around the globe.