Biodiversity publications archive

Refugia for biological diversity in arid and semi-arid Australia

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 4
S.R. Morton, J. Short and R.D. Barker, with an Appendix by G.F. Griffin and G. Pearce
Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995

7. Foci of biological diversity in Queensland (continued)

7.5. Channel Country

Area

112,982 km².

Primary land-use

Grazing by cattle, gasfields, tourism.

National Parks and Nature Reserves

The Innamincka area of South Australia has been declared a State Heritage Area under the South Australian Heritage Act (Lothian and Williams 1988). The Innamincka Regional Reserve lies within the South Australian section of the Region (see Cohen 1992). Diamantina Lakes National Park, Bladensburg National Park, Thrushton National Park, Goneaway Environmental Park, Betoota Environmental Park (Queensland). Sturt National Park (part) (New South Wales).

Management problems

Rabbits, and land degradation resulting from over-grazing (Boyland 1984; Pickard 1991; Wilcox and Cunningham 1994). Little tree recruitment is occurring beside Coongie Lake due to rabbits (there is a contrast of island vegetation with shoreline vegetation), and cattle grazing in some places, such as along the Cooper Creek frontage, is causing environmental damage (Reid and Gillen 1988). Water tables of the Artesian Basin appear to be dropping due to artificial bores, and thereby affecting natural springs.

Uncontrolled tourism may be a problem in some localities – 25,000 individuals visited Innamincka in 1987 (Reid and Gillen 1988). There are particular problems with pollution in this endorheic drainage basin with irregular flow. The river system cannot be regarded as "self-purifying"; Lake Eyre could easily become the sink for all pollutants. Currently, algal productivity is limited by nitrogen; hence, there is a need to be wary of nitrogen additions in the form of vertebrate waste and fertilisers (e.g. unrestricted camping or cattle access to water holes) which could result in dense surface growths such as strands of filamentous algae or floating plants (Roberts in Reid and Gillen 1988). Power boating on lakes appears to be disturbing waterbirds. There is likely to be illegal shooting of ducks and rapid degradation of riparian woodland by unregulated camping.

ANZECC-listed species

Mammals: The kowari Dasyuroides byrnei (E) occurs at scattered localities such as the Koonchera/Lake Goyder District, South Australia (Reid and Gillen 1988, pp. 145-7) and Roseberth, Sandringham, Mt Leonard and Diamantina Lakes, Queensland (Ingram and Raven 1991; Lim in McFarland 1992). In the eastern (Queensland) part of its range, the bilby Macrotis lagotis (V) has contracted during this century to this Region and to parts of the Mitchell Grass Downs (Gordon et al. 1990). It is now confined to a relatively small area north-east of Birdsville (Southgate 1990).

Birds: The plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus (V) occurs patchily in the Region (Baker-Gabb et al. 1990; McFarland 1992). Reports of the night parrot Geopsittacus occidentalis (E) remain unconfirmed (McFarland 1992).

Plants: Frankenia plicata (E) occurs in the Coongie area (Reid and Gillen 1988, pp. 116-7), and Bosistoa transversa, Eremophila tetraptera, Goodenia megasepala, Ptilotus maconochiei, Sclerolaena blakei and Xerothamnella parvifolia (all V) in the Queensland Channel Country (Neldner 1991; Wilson and Young 1994). Bowen and Pressey (1993) reported Xerothamnella parvifolia, Acacia carnei (see also Auld 1993), and Grevillea kennedyana (see also Duncan 1992) (all V) from the far north-western corner of New South Wales.

Species that are regionally endemic

Birds: The grey grasswren Amytornis barbatus is endemic to the Region, and occurs as isolated and taxonomically distinct forms in the Bulloo River, and in Goyder's Lagoon and other scattered localities northward along the Diamantina and Cooper into Queensland (Schodde and Christidis 1987). It is confined to lignum Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii or swamp canegrass Eragrostis australasica.

Reptiles: The Cooper Creek tortoise Emydura sp. is endemic to the lower Cooper, South Australia (Reid and Gillen 1988, p. 152, p. 230). The skinks Ctenotus astarte and C. aphrodite are endemic to the Region in far western Queensland, and C. serotinus appears confined to the Diamantina Lakes area (Cogger 1992; McFarland 1992). McFarland (1992) also reported an unidentified blind snake Ramphotyphlops from near Birdsville, Queensland.

Fishes: The Elizabeth Springs goby Chlamydogobius sp. appears to be endemic to the Elizabeth Springs complex near Springvale Station, Queensland (Wager and Jackson 1993). It is at risk from reductions in water tables due to artificial bores and to habitat destruction due to trampling by domestic stock.

Invertebrates: Several species of snails (Hydrobiidae) appear confined to artesian springs in Queensland (Ponder and Clark 1990).

Plants: Boyland (1984) commented that markedly few plant species were endemic to the Queensland portion of the Region. Apart from those mentioned above under ANZECC-listed species, he noted as endemics Ptilotus remotiflorus, Acacia ammophila and Crinum pestilentis.

Relict populations

The "nationally threatened grass Echinochloa inundata" is present in backwaters of the North-west Branch of the Cooper Creek (Reid and Gillen 1988, p. 229). Other species of concern in this vicinity include Frankenia cupularis, Goodenia lobata and Phlegmatospermum eremaeum. Thomas and McDonald (1989) and Wilson and Young (1994) listed several species of concern in Queensland: Atriplex fissivalvis, A. lobativalvis, A. morrisii, Brachycome tesquorum, Eremophila alatisepala, Eremophila strongylophylla, Euphorbia sarcostemmoides, Frankenia flabellata, Glinus orygioides, Goodenia angustifolia, Ptilotus pseudohelipteroides, Rulingia salvifolia and Sclerolaena blackiana (see also Neldner 1991).

Other significant populations

South Australia: In the far north-east, many waterbodies of the Coongie Lakes System fill regularly as a result of flows along the North-west Branch of the Cooper Creek (see Reid and Gillen 1988, pp. 210-1). Principal among them are Coongie Lake, Lake Toontoowaranie, Lake Goyder, Lakes Marroocoolcannie and Maroocutchanie, and Tirrawarra Swamp. The Diamantina River floods out into Goyder's Lagoon to the north-west of the Coongie area.

Waterholes and more permanent lakes provide "drought refuge for the wide range of aquatic fauna (fish, frogs, waterbirds, the Cooper Creek tortoise, water rat, and countless invertebrates) when dry seasonal conditions persist for a year or more" (Reid and Gillen 1988, p. 229). Dense lignum beds adjacent to lakes or channels "are considered to provide a refuge for the long-haired rat" (Rattus villosissimus; Reid and Gillen 1988, p. 177); between plagues the species shrinks to small pockets in perennially damp locations within the Channel Country. The Coongie Lakes wetlands are considered to provide habitat for two uncommon waterbirds, the white-winged tern Chlidonias leucoptera and pectoral sandpiper Calidris melanotos (Reid and Gillen 1988, p. 179).

The Cooper Creek catfish Neosilurus sp., Gilbert's water dragon Gemmatophora gilberti (restricted range in South Australia), an undescribed species of the frog Cyclorana, and an outlying population of water rat Hydromys chrysogaster characterise the area (Reid and Gillen 1988). In addition, the night parrot Geopsittacus occidentalis may persist in the Cooper Creek area, and the bush thick-knee Burhinus grallarius is present (Reid and Gillen 1988). Other rare or localized reptile and mammal populations include Forrest's mouse Leggadina forresti and the yellow-bellied sheath-tailed bat Saccolaimus flaviventris (both rare in South Australia), and a skink Lerista aericeps (Reid and Gillen 1988). Ten bird species of the area are vulnerable in South Australia: little egret Egretta garzetta, freckled duck Stictonetta naevosa, grey falcon Falco hypoleucos, brolga Grus rubicundus, Australian bustard Ardeotis kori, painted snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Latham's snipe Gallinago hardwickii, blue-winged parrot Neophema chrysostoma, barking owl Ninox connivens, and yellow chat Ephthianura crocea. There are also "endemic, distinctive populations of red-rumped and mallee ringneck parrots" (Psephotus haematonotus and Barnardius barnardi) in the Innamincka area (Reid and Gillen 1988). Grass owls Tyto longimembris occur sporadically in Goyder's Lagoon (Cox 1976).

Queensland and New South Wales: Freckled ducks are associated with large waterholes in Lake Bullawarra, Diamantina Lakes, Adria Downs and Glengyle, and peregrine falcons Falco peregrinus are scattered throughout the area (McGreevy 1987; McFarland 1992). Populations of the golden perch Macquaria ambigua are notable (McFarland 1992). McGreevy (1987) pointed out the value of the wetlands of the Bulloo area to vertebrate fauna.

McFarland (1992) pointed out that the Queensland Channel Country exhibits the highest diversity of all terrestrial classes of vertebrates on the basis of fauna surveys during the past 15 years: some 22 species of frogs, 130 reptiles, 230 birds, and 35 mammals. On the basis of the distribution of certain rare vertebrates and plants (which have been listed above), he and Wilson and Young (1994) proposed a series of six "key areas", based upon the presence of rare species and the apposition of many different vegetational formations. A dominant feature of most of these key areas appears to be the presence of floodouts, channels and lakes associated with the Diamantina, the Cooper and the Bulloo, notably the Diamantina Lakes, the Tanbar area, and the Bulloo Overflow.

Bowen and Pressey (1993) reported the rare plants Dipteracanthus australasicus, Atriplex lobativalvis,and Zygophyllum humillimum from the far north-west corner of New South Wales.

Wetland sites

Much of the following information is abstracted from Morelli and Drewien (1993) and Blackman et al. (1993).

The lower Diamantina and Cooper: The Diamantina and Georgina Rivers and Cooper Creek drain almost 700,000 km² and discharge into a vast area of swamps, lakes and overflows (Lothian and Williams 1988). Many hundreds of wetlands include Goyder's Lagoon, the Warburton, Lake Etamunbanie, Lake Coongie, and the waterholes near Innamincka. The wetlands are filled intermittently when heavy rain falls in the catchment, and thereby become a haven for waterfowl from southern areas (Foale 1975). The Coongie Lake system is, consequently, listed under the Ramsar convention as a wetland of international importance to waterfowl; at least 20,000 waterfowl occupied the Lakes all year except after heavy rain.

Eleven species of fish occur in the north-west branch of the Cooper: nine are native (bony bream Nematalosa erebi, callop Macquaria ambigua, smelt Retropinna semoni, western carp gudgeon Hypseleotris klunzingeri, desert rainbow fish Melanotaenia splendida tatei, Cooper Creek tandan Neosilurus sp. A, yellow fin tandan Neosilurus sp. B, spangled perch Leiotherapon unicolor and Welch's grunter Bidyanus welchi); and two are exotic (mosquito fish Gambusia affinis and goldfish Carassius auratus).

Bulloo Overflow and Carypundy Swamp: The Overflow lies to the east of Tibooburra, and comprises an extensive terminal playa of the Bulloo River. When inundated, the Overflow supports large numbers of breeding and refuging waterbirds (Briggs 1977; Kingsford et al. 1990).

Refugia

The following areas are listed as refugia: Coongie Lakes (see section 11.10), Goyder's Lagoon (11.11), Elizabeth Springs (13.1), the Queensland channel country (13.8), and the Bulloo Overflow (14.3).