Australia has the capacity to support a very small but very varied biomass, compared to Europe.27 Reasons for Australia's lesser carrying capacity are its unreliable rainfall - "drought and flooding rains"28 - hostile climates, and impoverished soils, which, unlike Europe's, have not benefited from recent glaciations or volcanic activity.
Australia's noteworthy flatness discourages rainfall and allows rivers to meander and evaporate, salting up soil, but gathering and depositing little silt. Non-nomadic Australian mammals are small, with slow metabolisms. The largest mammals are the nomadic kangaroos. Like cockatoos, parrots, and the long-legged flightless emu, the kangaroo can travel quickly away from drought to rain, to find better foraging. Many of the largest fauna are reptiles - monitors, snakes, crocodiles - feeding infrequently, using the sun to help maintain body temperature.29 Flora and fauna have adapted to the precarious, infertile soils, and mostly arid climate. For instance, Australia has the world's largest variety of carnivorous plants, which supplement nitrogen-poor soils with nitrogen-rich insect protein, and Nuytsia floribunda, a tree-sized mistletoe, draws nutrients directly from the roots of trees.30 The "scleromorphous" structure of much indigenous vegetation is an adaptation to water shortage.
Most of Australia is hot desert. Total land stock is 770 million hectares, but less than 30 million hectares (below 4 percent), is of good or very good quality for cropping.31
Some 75 percent or 570 million hectares is rangeland. About 406 million hectares are used for grazing, with stock density as low as one beast per 100 square kilometers. Frequent droughts lasting several seasons often result in massive stock deaths. The majority of Aboriginal people moved with their nomadic food sources in response to the erratic climate and changing conditions. In some more fertile, less arid parts, especially the southeast, archeological remains of stone habitations and signs of eel races were found recently, indicating more settled conditions at some stage.32
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