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

4. Foci of biological diversity in Western Australia (continued)

4.4. Pilbara


179, 287 km².

Primary land-uses

Mining (iron ore, salt, petroleum), extensive cattle grazing, tourism.

National Parks and Nature Reserves

Barrow Island Nature Reserve, Monte Bello Islands Nature Reserve, Millstream-Chichester National Park, Karijini (Hamersley Range) National Park, Barlee Range Nature Reserve; 25 of 42 islands of Dampier Archipelago are nature reserves (may become the Dampier Archipelago National Park; Thomson 1991), Mungaroona Nature Reserve; Abydos-Woodstock Reserve.

Management problems

Existing: Land degradation through over-grazing (Suijdendorp 1955; Ealey 1967; Newsome 1975). Feral cats on Monte Bello Islands (Hermite), foxes on Depuch and Dolphin Islands.

Potential: Exotic species reaching off-shore islands (black rat on Barrow Island).

ANZECC-listed species

Mammals: Burrowing bettong Bettongia lesueur (E) (Short and Turner 1993), Barrow Island euro Macropus robustus isabellinus (V) (Short and Turner 1991), black-footed rock-wallaby Petrogale lateralis (V), mulgara Dasycercus cristicauda (V), bilby Macrotis lagotis (V), pebble-mound mouse Pseudomys chapmani (V), and ghost bat Macroderma gigas (V). There is a reintroduced population of burrowing bettong Bettongia lesueur on Boodie Island.

Birds: The Barrow Island black-and-white fairy-wren Malurus leucopterus edouardi (V) (Burbidge 1989).

Reptiles: The skink Ctenotus angusticeps (V) is known only from Airlie Island, south of Barrow Island (Cogger 1992).

Species that are regionally endemic

Mammals: The red-eared Antechinus Dasykaluta rosamondae, Pilbara ningaui Ningaui timealeyi, and the pebble-mound mouse.

Reptiles: A suite of Pilbara endemics occurs in the Hamersley and Chichester Ranges (Johnstone 1983; Cogger 1992): the geckos Diplodactylus savagei, D. wombeyi, and Nephrurus wheeleri cinctus; the pygopodid Delma elegans; the agamid Diporiphora valens; the skinks Ctenotus nasutus, C. nigrilineatus, C. rubicundus, C.rutilans, C. grandis titan, Egernia pilbarensis, Lerista chalybura, L. concolor, L. flammicauda, L. neander, Morethia ruficauda exquisita and Notoscincus butleri; the goanna Varanus pilbarensis; the python Liasis olivaceus barroni; the elapid Demansia olivacea rufescens; and the blind snake Ramphotyphlops diversus ammodytes.

The skink Ctenotus pantherinus acripes is known only from Barrow Island, the pygopodid Aprasia rostrata rostrata on Hermite Island in the Monte Bello Islands, and the skink Ctenotus angusticeps on Airlie Island (Burbidge 1989; see also Cogger et al. 1993, pp. 50-2).

Relict populations

The spectacled hare-wallaby Lagorchestes conspicillatus conspicillatus, golden bandicoot Isoodon auratus barrowensis, and brush-tailed possum Trichosurus arnhemensis on Barrow Island.

Other significant populations

Hamersley Range: Gorge vegetation of Callitris columellaris, Ficus platypoda, Brachychiton sp. and Dodonaea spp. (Johnstone 1983; Cogger 1992). The frog Pseudophryne douglasi is confined to permanent seeps or deep-shaded gorges in the Pilbara and North-west Cape (Cogger 1992).

Dampier Archipelago: See Thomson (1991) for map and general description. The Archipelago contains more than 288 species of plants. Notable animals include Rothschild's rock-wallaby Petrogale rothschildi on Dolphin, Rosemary and Enderby Islands, pale field-rat Rattus tunneyi on Middle Mangrove, Weld, West Lewis, Legendre, Enderby, Boongaree, Saint Andrew Islands, western chestnut mouse Pseudomys nanus on Barrow Island, water-rat Hydromys chrysogaster on Barrow and Hermite Islands, northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus on Dolphin Island (Burbidge 1989).

Abydos-Woodstock Reserve: The Reserve has one of the richest reptile assemblages yet recorded in arid Australia, being as rich as that recorded from the considerably larger Karijini National Park (How et al. 1991). There is also a rich mammal fauna, including mulgara, bilby, pebble-mound mouse, and ghost bat (How et al. 1991).

Plants: Leigh et al. (1984, p. 158) listed the rare plant Helichrysum oligochaetum from the Region.

Wetland sites

Inland waters of the Pilbara are described in Masini (1988) and Masini and Walker (1987) and by Jaensch and Lane (1993). The Millstream Pools area comprises "an outstanding system of permanent river pools and springs", and supports the endemic Millstream fan palm Livistona alfredii, the endemic Fortescue grunter Leiopotherapon apheneus, other fishes, and endemic insects, notably dragonflies and damselflies (Jaensch and Lane 1993). The De Grey River contains permanent pools which provide a significant drought refuge for freshwater fish and waterbirds in the north of the Pilbara (Jaensch and Lane 1993).

Migratory waders, shorebirds and seabirds use the beaches and mudflats of the mangroves on islands of the Dampier Archipelago (Thomson 1991).


The following appear to constitute refugia: the Dampier Archipelago (see section 10.1), the Monte Bello islands (10.2), the Barrow Island group (10.4), the De Grey river (10.21), and the Hamersley and Chichester Ranges (10.29).