The Gibson Desert contains vast undulating sand plains, dunefields, plains of lateritic ‘buckshot’ (rusty-red iron oxide pebbles formed by surface weathering), and upland regions of sandstone. The Gibson desert contains few creeks, with most drainage lines buried in sand.
The sand plains and dune fields support shrublands of acacia, eremophila and grevillea and expanses of spinifex, while the buckshot plains contain scattered mulga and spinifex. Stands of desert oak are also present.
Almost 12% of the Gibson Desert bioregion is in reserves, including the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve to the north-west of Warburton. The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area stretches across the Little Sandy Desert and into the Gibson Desert.
The Gibson Desert Bioregion extends across 160,000 square kilometres of the central east rangelands of Western Australia.
The Gibson Desert has an arid climate with variable and unpredictable rainfall. Rain mostly falls in summer. The median annual rainfall (1890–2005) averaged across the entire bioregion is 163 mm.
Ngaanyatjarra lands; Warburton, Warakurna and Patjarr Kanpa, Patjarr and Tjirrkarli.
Flora and fauna
Much of the vegetation of the Gibson Desert is mulga and other mixed shrubs over spinifex. The red sand plains and dune fields support grasslands of soft spinifex (Triodia pungens) with an open overstorey of acacias, hakeas and grevilleas.
Similar vegetation is found on the lateritic uplands in the north of the Gibson Desert, but further south mulga (Acacia aneura) becomes the dominant overstorey species on uplands. The buckshot plains support mulga parkland (patchy mulga scrub) and hard spinifex (T. basedowii). Alluvial soils along buried drainage lines support coolabah (Eucalyptus vitrix) woodlands over bunch grasses.
The Gibson Desert bioregion supports five threatened animal species:
- Warrana/Great Desert Skink (Liophilis kintorei)
- Princess parrot (Polytelis alexandrae)
- Greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)
- Kakarratul/northern marsupial mole (Notoryctes caurinus)
- Australian bustard (Aredeotis australis)
The Near Threatened (WA) brush-tailed mulgara (D. blythii) and Grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos) have also been recorded in the Gibson Desert.
Introduced predators such as red foxes and feral cats have been a primary cause of the extinction of small- to medium-sized mammals across Australia’s arid inland. Along with wild dogs, they continue to pose significant threats to mammals, reptiles and ground-dwelling birds across all of Australia’s desert ecosystems.
Introduced herbivores such as camels, donkeys, horses and rabbits cause significant damage to desert ecosystems through overgrazing, particularly around water sources where they tend to congregate in dry times. Camels foul waterholes and have significant impacts upon fragile salt lake and freshwater ecosystems.
Invasive species in particular buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) poses the greatest threat to Australia’s desert ecosystems as it can quickly come to dominate the ground layer of vegetation. It burns hotter and more quickly than the native grasses it replaces. Buffel grass invasion in combination with larger and more intense wildfires driven by climate change have the potential to devastate the biodiversity of arid ecosystems.
Visiting the Gibson Desert
The southern sections of the Canning Stock Route run through the Gibson Desert.