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

5. Foci of biological diversity in South Australia (continued)

5.3. Simpson-Strzelecki Dunefields


358,474 km².

Primary land-use

Cattle and sheep grazing, Aboriginal land, tourism.

National Parks and Nature Reserves

Simpson Desert National Park (Queensland). Simpson Desert Conservation Park (692,680 ha), Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, Lake Frome Regional Reserve, Innamincka Regional Reserve (part), Strzelecki Regional Reserve, and Lake Eyre National Park (South Australia). Mac Clarke (Acacia peuce) Conservation Reserve (Northern Territory). Sturt National Park (part) (New South Wales).

Management problems

Grazing of floodplains of freshwater rivers, lakes and swamps by stock and rabbits can cause land degradation (Lothian and Williams 1988).

In the south of the Region, house mice and rabbits “are causing considerable concern because of the damage to vegetation and habitat resulting from their very high numbers” (South Australian Department of Environment and Planning 1984, p. 37). Pech and Graetz (1982) also noted that rabbits were “devastating” parts of the desert. Camels, foxes and cats are also present. In the north, Gibson and Cole (1988) identified fire, exotic animals and erosion as the major management issues.

ANZECC-listed species

The dusky hopping-mouse Notomys fuscus (E) occurs in sand-dunes along the Strzelecki Creek in the vicinity of Lake Blanche, South Australia, and near Durrie, Queensland (McFarland 1992; Brandle in Morton et al. 1994). The mulgara Dasycercus cristicauda (V) occurs in the north of the Region, both on the western and eastern sides of the Desert (Gibson and Cole 1988; Woolley 1990; McFarland 1992).

The endemic wattles Acacia pickardii and Acacia peuce (both V) are found at scattered localities (Chuk 1982; Boyland 1984; Purdie 1984; Neldner 1991).

Species that are regionally endemic

Plants: Acacia nelsonii appears to be endemic (Purdie 1984).

Birds: The Eyrean grasswren Amytornis goyderi is endemic to the Region, but does not appear to be at risk (Blakers et al. 1984; Gibson and Cole 1988).

Reptiles: The Lake Eyre dragon Ctenophorus maculosus is restricted to Lake Eyre and surrounding salt lakes (Mitchell 1973).

Relict populations

The relictual nature of Acacia peuce has been widely discussed (Chuk 1982; Boyland 1984; Purdie 1984; Neldner 1991).

Other significant populations

The skink Ctenotus brachonyx is confined to spinifex in north-western NSW and also in the Murray-Darling Depression (section 8.5) (Sadlier and Pressey 1994).

The manmade Purnie Bore increases local diversity of birds by permitting the long-term occupation of part of the desert by species with high water requirements (Stokes 1993).

The plants Dipteracanthus corynothecus, Glinus orygioides, Corchus elderi, Indigofera sp., Bergia occultipetala, Ptilotus eichleranus, Eryngium supinum, Sclerolaena wilsonii, Teucrium albicaule, Zygophyllum humillimum and Eleocharis papillosa are all rare species in the Region (Purdie 1984; Gibson and Cole 1988).

Yellow chats Ephthianura crocea have been recorded in the northern Simpson Desert, as have Australian bustards Ardeotis kori and red-rumped parrots Psephotus haematonotus (Gibson and Cole 1988).

The Hay River and adjacent Lake Caroline were considered by Gibson and Cole (1988) to represent the least disturbed riverine system in the Region. The vicinity is largely unaffected by humans and is apparently free of rabbits and other feral herbivores.

Wetland sites

Lake Eyre: Lake Eyre is the terminus of one of the largest endorheic drainage basins in the world (Williams 1990). It fills infrequently (four times this century), but smaller inflows occur about every second year on average (Kotwicki 1986). When inundated, it teems with fish and bird life. Invertebrates of the Lake appear in the main to be widespread species (there is at least one exception, the ostracod Diacypris sp.; Williams 1990). The fishes are, similarly, represented by widespread species; five species occur, three of them rarely. Waterbirds occupy the Lake in huge numbers in excess of 300,000; the assemblage is diverse (at least 36 species), and several species breed on islands within the Lake (Kingsford and Porter 1993).

Strzelecki Creek floodplain and Lake Blanche: Strzelecki Creek is an important distributary of its parent, the Cooper Creek, and a major feeder of Lake Blanche, a shallow freshwater lake that increases in salinity as it dries out. When in flood, it supports large numbers of waterbirds, including the freckled duck Stictonetta naevosa (Puckridge and Drewien 1992).

Lake Frome: Morelli and Drewien (1993) recorded this large saline Lake which, together with Lakes Torrens (section 5.6), Gairdner, Harris, Everard and Acraman (section 5.5), forms a complex of relatively pristine playa and ephemeral wetlands. Little is known of the biology of the Lake.


The following are classed as refugia: Lake Frome (see section 11.5), Lake Eyre (11.8), the Strzelecki Creek floodplain and Lake Blanche (11.9), and the Hay River (12.14).