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In this paper we draw together a number of themes that have emerged in recent research on fauna and land use in arid environments. We also draw attention to the worldwide concern about desertification — the process that drives loss of biodiversity and productivity and the simplification of ecological processes — and evaluate how attitudes and policies in Australia are addressing the problem here. Although animals in arid Australia show many similar adaptations to those of ecologically equivalent animals elsewhere, the taxonomic composition of Australia's desert fauna is unique. Some species, such as snails, occur as relicts from wetter times in the past, while others have adapted more recently to aridity and have relatives in more temperate parts of the continent. Other species, especially among the mammals, have suffered severely due to land-use changes since European settlement and face continuing declines. Regrettably, research effort in arid Australia lags behind that in other regions due to difficulties of access and lack of resources, so the animals of the vast arid inland remain very much out on their own. At the international level, there is a clear acknowledgment that truly arid lands are fragile and low in productivity, and thus should be managed sensitively to exploit such attributes as their intense solar radiation and great aesthetic values. There is also recognition that although the semi-arid regions on the fringes of the true deserts have offered more potential for human settlement and intensive land use such as grazing, it is in these regions where desertification has been most intense. If current trends toward desertification are allowed to continue and predictions of climate change prove accurate, the beleaguered native animals of arid Australia will not just remain “out on their own”, but will also be “hung out to dry”.

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