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Deserts

Great Victoria Desert

Description

The Great Victoria Desert (GVD) is the largest of Australia’s deserts, stretching from eastern Western Australia across the western half of South Australia. It is an active sand-ridge desert, consisting of many low and frequently jumbled sand-dunes, with playa lakes bordered by lunettes (crescent-shaped dunes). Creeks are few and rocky outcrops are scarce. Gibber plains are also present.

The GVD supports many vegetation types, including eucalypt open woodlands, mulga woodlands, acacia shrublands, casuarina and mallee shrublands and woodlands, and chenopod and samphire shrublands. Of note are the sparse woodlands of stately marble gums.

More than 15% of the Great Victoria Desert bioregion is held within reserves; with 8.5% of the Western Australian section of the bioregion held within the conservation estate. Reserves include Mamungari Conservation Park (SA), Yeo Lake Nature Reserve (WA), Neale Junction Nature Reserve (WA), Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve (WA), and Great Sandy Desert Nature Reserve (WA). The Walalkara Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), Mt Willoughby IPA, Watarru IPA and Apara-Makiri-Punti IPA(?) are within the GSD.

The South Australian section of GVD is a declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in recognition of its largely unaltered landscapes.

Geographical area

The Great Victoria Desert bioregion encompasses 420,000 square kilometres of land in the southern rangelands of Western Australia (52% of the bioregion) and the west of South Australia.

Climate

The climate of the GVD is arid, with variable and unpredictable rainfall that can fall in either summer or winter. The median annual rainfall (1890–2005) averaged across the GVD is 162 mm.

Desert communities

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands; Ngaayatjarra lands. Ernabella, Amata, Pipalyatjara, Oak Valley and Tjuntjuntjara.

Flora and fauna

Much of the GVD is covered by open woodlands with a grass understorey. The sandplains and areas between sand hills support hummock grasslands of hard spinifex (Triodia basedowii) with scattered eucalypts such as marble gum (Eucalyptus gongylocarpa) and large-fruited mallee (E. youngiana) or mulga (Acacia aneura). Sand dunes support spinifex with an overstorey of mallee, acacia and other shrubs. Gibber plains are normally almost devoid of vegetation but following rains they may be densely covered by flowering ephemeral species from the daisy, pea and amaranth families.

The GVD has an exceptionally high diversity of reptiles with 95 species recorded, 18 of which are of conservation significance.

Threatened species

The GVD bioregion supports nine threatened plant species and 24 threatened or vulnerable animal species, including:

Key threats

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.

Of all the invasive species, 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.

Vegetation clearing for mining exploration is a potential threat to ecosystems in the GVD.

Project activities

Buffel Free GVD Initiative (Spinifex Land Management Rangers)

The Ten Deserts of Australia

Australia’s ten deserts are globally significant arid lands with diverse habitats and significant natural features. The project area supports an exceptional range of animals and plants including numerous iconic threatened species (such as the bilby and rock wallaby).  Indigenous Australians have inhabited the desert country for thousands of years and continue to have strong cultural and spiritual connections to the desert. The deserts span 2.7 million km2 across five state and territory jurisdictions.

 

Great Victoria
Tirari
Sturt Stony
Simpson
Tanami
Great Sandy
Little Sandy
Gibson
Pedirka
Strzelecki
  • Ten Deserts project area

Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert (GVD) is the largest of Australia’s deserts, stretching from eastern Western Australia across the western half of South Australia, encompassing 420,000 square kilometres of land..

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Tirari Desert

The Tirari Desert forms the eastern edge of Lake Eyre and is partly located within the Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre National Park.

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Sturt Stony Desert

The Sturt Stony Desert covers 40,000 square kilometres of land in South Australia and Queensland between the Simpson and Strzelecki deserts

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Simpson Desert

The Simpson Desert is one of the world’s largest deserts of longitudinal dunes and extends across 180,000 square kilometres of land that straddles the border area Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

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Tanami Desert

The Tanami Desert covers 310,000 square kilometres, most of which lies in the Northern Territory. The western section of the Tanami lies in Western Australia between the Great Sandy Desert and the Kimberley

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Great Sandy Desert

The Great Sandy Desert (GSD) lies between the Kimberley and Pilbara regions in the north of Western Australia. It contains vast areas of red sand plains and dunefields, and extends across 390,000 square kilometres of Western Australia and the Northern Territory

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Little Sandy Desert

The Little Sandy Desert sits to the east of the Pilbara region and to the south of the western section of the Great Sandy Desert and covers 110,000 square kilometres of the central rangelands of Western Australia

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Gibson Desert

The Gibson Desert contains vast undulating sand plains, dunefields, plains of lateritic ‘buckshot’, and upland regions of sandstone. It extends across 160,000 square kilometres of the central east rangelands of Western Australia.

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Pedirka Desert

The Pedirka Desert is a small desert 100 km north-west of Oodnadatta consists of a gently undulating plain with parallel dunes of ‘fiery’ red sands surrounded by stony tablelands. It covers 1250 square kilometres of land straddling the Northern Territory/South Australian border.

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Strzelecki Desert

The Strzelecki Desert, together with the Sturt Stony and Tirari deserts, forms the complex of desert country in north-eastern South Australia and covers covers 110,000 square kilometres of land

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