Despite its high biodiversity and biogeographical interest, the fauna of Coolah Tops and the surrounding area is not well known. A recent Australian Museum Expedition to Coolah Tops helped close this gap, as our scientists found a diverse and intriguing fauna.

A misty morning in the forest at Coolah Tops

A misty morning in the forest at Coolah Tops.

Image: Sandy Ingleby
© Australian Museum

Coolah Tops, ~360 km north-west of Sydney, is located between the western edge of the Hunter Valley and the Liverpool Plains in central western New South Wales. It is an island of tall open forest in a sea of cleared agricultural land. It is also an island in the sky; a basalt plateau that rises to over 1000 m and is consequently cooler and wetter than the surrounding drier and hotter lowlands. It represents a western outlier of moist montane forest and is therefore likely to have served as a mesic refuge for fauna and flora during past arid climatic cycles. These features make it a special place in NSW where eastern and western faunas mingle. Despite its high biodiversity and biogeographical interest, the fauna of Coolah Tops and the surrounding area is not well known and is very poorly represented in natural history museum collections.

The AMRI research team field station at Barrington Tops during the expedition to Coolah Tops, NSW.

The historic Bracken’s Hut (built 1937), provided a fieldwork base for AMRI researchers at Coolah Tops.

Image: Richard Major
© Australian Museum

To address this knowledge gap, vertebrate staff from the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) conducted surveys at Coolah Tops during May and November of 2018. Despite the very dry conditions, 109 vertebrate species were recorded, including 1 fish, 2 frogs, 17 reptiles, 62 birds and 27 mammals. Threatened mammal species recorded included the Large-eared Pied Bat, Chalinolobus dwyeri, Eastern Falsistrelle, Falsistrellus tasmaniensis and a high density of Greater Gliders, Petauroides volans. Threatened bird species identified included the Barking Owl, Ninox connivens, Powerful Owl, Ninox strenua, Varied Sittella, Daphoenositta chrysoptera and Scarlet Robin, Petroica boodang. The detection of a Robust Velvet Gecko, Nebulifera robusta and Thick-tailed Gecko, Underwoodisaurus milli represented the first confirmed records of geckos in the area. Also significant was the identification of a population of the Montane Sunskink, Lampropholis caligula a high elevation, range restricted species that is endemic to central eastern NSW.

R.185768 Alpine Sunskink (Lampropholis caligula)

A range restricted NSW endemic species the Montane Sunskink (Lampropholis caligula) recorded at Coolah Tops.

Image: Stephen Mahony
© Australian Museum

A Large-eared Pied Bat (Chalinolobus dwyeri) recorded at Coolah Tops and listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in NSW

A Large-eared Pied Bat (Chalinolobus dwyeri) recorded at Coolah Tops and listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in NSW.

Image: Sandy Ingleby
© Australian Museum

Although no introduced species of fishes, amphibians or reptiles was detected, one introduced bird species (Common Blackbird, Turdus merula) and seven introduced mammal species were detected. Of particular concern is the increasing presence of Fallow Deer, Dama dama and the potential for feral Pigs, Sus scofa to degrade the few remaining moist areas along creek lines.

As a result of this expedition, samples from 44 species were added to Australian Museum (AM) collections, including skeletal remains of six mammal species. This field work has improved our knowledge of the vertebrate biodiversity of Coolah Tops and has significantly increased the AM’s holding of samples from this biologically significant area of NSW. Some of this recently collected material has already been incorporated into research projects and it will continue to be utilised by AMRI and other researchers for decades to come.

Dr Mark Eldridge, Principal Research Scientist, Terrestrial Vertebrates, Australian Museum Research Institute.


We are grateful to Mrs Mary Holt and the late Dr John Holt for supporting this project through a donation to the Australian Museum Foundation. Thanks also to Michael Murphy (NSW NPWS) for his assistance, advice and support.

Further Information