Wallace Line

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Wallace's Line delineates Australian and Southeast Asian fauna. The probable extent of land at the time of the last glacial maximum, when the sea level was more than 110 m lower than today, is shown in grey. The deep water of the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok formed a water barrier even when lower sea levels linked the now-separated islands and landmasses on either side.

The Wallace Line or Wallace's Line is a faunal boundary line drawn in 1859 by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace that separates the ecozones of Asia and Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia. West of the line are found organisms related to Asiatic species; to the east, a mixture of species of Asian and Australian origin is present. Wallace noticed this clear division during his travels through the East Indies in the 19th century. The line runs through Indonesia, between Borneo and Sulawesi (Celebes), and through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. The distance between Bali and Lombok is small, about 35 kilometres (22 mi). The distributions of many bird species observe the line, since many birds do not cross even the smallest stretches of open ocean water. Some bats have distributions that cross the line, but other mammals are generally limited to one side or the other; an exception is the crab-eating macaque. Other groups of plants and animals show differing patterns, but the overall pattern is striking and reasonably consistent.

Flora do not follow the Wallace Line to the same extent as fauna.[1]


The original drawing of the line from Wallace's paper

Antonio Pigafetta had recorded the biological contrasts between the Philippines and the Maluku Islands (Spice Islands) (on opposite sides of the line) in 1521 during the continuation of the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, after Magellan had been killed on Mactan. Moreover, as noted by Wallace himself, the observations in faunal differences between the two regions had already been made earlier by George Windsor Earl. In Earl's pamphlet On the Physical Geography of South-Eastern Asia and Australia, published in 1845, he described how shallow seas connected islands on the west (Sumatra, Java, etc.) with the Asian continent and with similar wildlife, and islands on the east such as New Guinea were connected to Australia and were characterised by the presence of marsupials. Wallace used his extensive travel in the region to propose a line to the east of Bali since "the whole of the islands eastwards from Java and Borneo do essentially form a part of a former Australian or Pacific Continent, from which they were separate."[2] The name 'Wallace's Line' was first used by Thomas Huxley in an 1868 paper to the Zoological Society of London, but showed the line to the west of the Philippines.[3][4]


The Wallacea region situated between the Wallace Line (after Ernst Mayr or Thomas Henry Huxley) and the Lydekker Line

Understanding of the biogeography of the region centers on the relationship of ancient sea levels to the continental shelves. Wallace's Line is visible geographically when the continental shelf contours are examined; it can be seen as a deep-water channel that marks the southeastern edge of the Sunda Shelf which links Borneo, Bali, Java, and Sumatra underwater to the mainland of southeastern Asia. Australia is likewise connected by the Sahul Shelf to New Guinea. The biogeographic boundary known as Lydekker's Line, which separates the eastern edge of Wallacea from the Australian region, has a similar origin to the Wallace line.

During ice age glacial advances, when the ocean levels were up to 120 metres (390 ft) lower, both Asia and Australia were united with what are now islands on their respective continental shelves as continuous land masses, but the deep water between those two large continental shelf areas was, for over 50 million years, a barrier that kept the flora and fauna of Australia separated from those of Asia. Wallacea consists of islands that were not recently connected by dry land to either of the continental land masses, and thus were populated by organisms capable of crossing the straits between islands. "Weber's Line" runs through this transitional area (to the east of centre), at the tipping point between dominance by species of Asian against those of Australian origin.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Welzen, P. C.; Parnell, J. A. N.; Slik, J. W. F. (2011). "Wallace's Line and plant distributions: Two or three phytogeographical areas and where to group Java?". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 103 (3): 531–545. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01647.x. 
  2. ^ Wallace 1863, p. 231.
  3. ^ Huxley, T. H. (1868). "On the Classification and Distribution of the Alectoromorphae and Heteromorphae". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: 294–319. Retrieved Apr 25, 2015. 
  4. ^ Camerini, Jane R. (1993). "Evolution, Biogeography, and Maps". Isis 84: 700–727. doi:10.1086/356637. 
  5. ^ Mayr, E. (1944), "Wallace's Line in the Light of Recent Zoogeographic Studies", The Quarterly Review of Biology 19 (1): 1–14, doi:10.1086/394684, JSTOR 2808563 

Further reading[edit]

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