Endangered Species Handbook

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Temperate Rainforests of the Southern Hemisphere

     South of the Equator, in widely separated areas, are remnants of forests with species of trees older than the dinosaurs.  These temperate rainforests grow in southern Chile and Argentina and, far to the west, in New Zealand, eastern Australia and the islands of Norfolk and New Caledonia.  They have been growing nearly undisturbed for more than 100 million years, and many species of animals native to them have ancient lineages as well.  Giant beeches grow in southern South America as well as far away in southern New Zealand and Australia.  All these trees once grew on the southern supercontinent, Gondwana, some 160 million years ago.  New Zealand, Australia and South America were joined and these trees were part of vast primitive forests.  The continent gradually broke apart.  Many species of trees survived on these new continents and islands as long as they could adapt to the new climates of the different latitudes and longitudes, where they were pushed by continental drift through movements of the Earth's tectonic plates.  In spite of eons of dramatic changes on Earth, geological and climatic, large fragments of these ancient forests have survived to the 21st century, only to face possible extinction.  The wildlife now inhabiting them is predominated by more recently evolved species which coexist with species whose ancestors inhabited Gondwana.  These fragile and unique ecosystems have undergone radical changes over the past few centuries, and many have been logged and cleared, with serious consequences for the native wild animals and plants.

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