The Little Sandy Desert (LSD) sits to the east of the Pilbara region and to the south of the western section of the Great Sandy Desert. The LSD comprises red dune-fields with abrupt outcrops of sandstone. The sandy soils of the dunes support spinifex grassland with acacias and grevilleas. The creeks that run from the low sandstone ranges are fringed with river red gums.
The Birriliburu IPA stretches across the LSD and into the Gibson Desert. About 4.6% of the Little Sandy Desert bioregion is within the conservation estate.
The LSD covers 110,000 square kilometres of the central rangelands of Western Australia.
The climate of the LSD is arid with summer-dominant rainfall. As with all Australian deserts, rainfall is highly variable and unpredictable. The median annual rainfall (1890–2005) averaged across the entire LSD is 178 mm.
Martu lands; Parngurr and Punmu communities.
Flora and fauna
The sandy soils of the LSD support hummock grasslands of feathertop spinifex (T. schinzii) with a scattered overstorey of acacias and grevilleas, including umbrella bush (Acacia ligulata) and Grevillea stenobotrya. Scattered desert bloodwoods (Corymbia chippendalei) are found on sand hills. On the stony hills and where lateritic gravel is exposed, hard spinifex (T. basedowii) is dominant. Coolibah (Eucalyptus vitrix) and river red gum (E. camadulensis) are found in areas with freshwater, such as creek lines emerging from the sandstone ranges. Scattered woodlands of desert oak (Allocasuarina decaisneana) and mulga (Acacia aneura) are also present. Over 550 plant taxa have been recorded in the southern LSD, including 16 species of conservation significance.
103 bird species have been recorded in the Birrilburu IPA, and 116 within the greater area. Notable species include Australian bustard (Aredeotis australis) and bush stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius); and possibly striated grasswrens (Amytornis striatus).
The LSD supports one threatened plant species and six threatened animal species, including:
- Greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)
- Princess parrot (Polytelis alexandrae)
- Kakarratul/northern marsupial mole (Notoryctes caurinus)
- Australian bustard (Aredeotis australis)
- Brush-tailed mulgara (D. blythii)
- Grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos; near threatened)
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 Little Sandy Desert
The central sections of the Canning Stock Route run through the Little Sandy Desert.