The status of herpetofauna and herpetology in the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory occupies about one-sixth of Australia and contains slightly more than one-third of it s herpetofauna species. Herpetological interest (and funding) in the Northern Territory has long been focused upon the two crocodile species present. In this paper I largely ignore these more obtrusive element s of the herpetofauna, and attempt instead to assemble and consider the diverse strands of research dealing with the less conspicuous majority of species.
The composition and diversity of the Northern Territory herpetofauna is strongly linked to a pronounced rainfall gradient from the Wet-Dry tropics to arid central Australia. Within regions, there is also pronounced variation in species composition from the limited upland areas to lowlands, and with variation in substrate. Fire patterns impose a further layer of environmental variability influencing the distribution and abundance of Northern Territory herpetofauna. Herpetofauna communities are also markedly unstable, varying with rainfall, humidity and temperature patternings within and between seasons. A feature of some Northern Territory environments is the remarkable diversity, density and biomass of herpetofauna assemblages.
The Northern Territory remains a frontier land for herpetologists. As many species have been described since 1960 as were described before that date. The environment generally remains little fragmented or modified. Few species have been studied in detail. There has been little research on the processes influencing the distributions of species or on the impact of threatening agents. Many regions have been subject to little or no herpetological survey. The conservation status of many taxa is unclear. The detailed knowledge about herpetofauna possessed by Aboriginal people has only recently been appreciated and documented by scientists.