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Deserts

Simpson Desert

Description

The Simpson Desert is one of the world’s largest deserts of longitudinal dunes. It contains 1100 dunes arranged in a closely packed array, with some dunes running south-east to north-west for 200 km. Dunes can reach 90 m in height.

The Simpson and Strzelecki deserts form the Simpson–Strzelecki Dunefields (SSD) bioregion, comprising long parallel sand dunes, fringing dunefields, extensive sandplains, dry watercourses and saltpans. The arid dunefields and sandplains support sparse shrubland and spinifex hummock grassland, with cane grass on deep sands along dune crests. The swales of claypans and stony plains support a sparse shrubland of acacias, and coolabah woodlands fringe the creeks and floodouts.

Most of the SSD bioregion that lies within South Australia is within nature reserves, with over 3.5 M hectares held within the Munga-Thirri-Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Regional Reserve. One million hectares of the Queensland section of the Simpson Desert is held within the Munga-Thirra National Park.

Geographical area

The Simpson Desert extends across 180,000 square kilometres of land that straddles the border area Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

Climate

The SSD bioregion has an arid, subtropical climate and includes the driest area of Australia. Rainfall is unreliable but usually occurs in summer storms. The median annual rainfall (1890–2005) averaged across the entire bioregion is 125 mm.

Desert communities

Arabana, eastern, southern and lower Arrernte, Dieri, Wangkamadla and Wangkangurra Yarluyandi lands.

Flora and fauna

The vegetation of the Simpson Desert is predominantly spinifex hummock grasslands with sparse acacia shrublands and some narrow river red gum (Eucalyptus camadulensis) and coolibah (E. coolabah) riverine woodlands. Sandhill canegrass (Zygochloa paradoxa) and sandhill wattle (Acacia ligulata) cover the dune crests and mobile slopes, while hard spinifex (Triodia basedowii) grows on stable slopes and the sandy corridors between dunes. Various species of acacia, eremophila and grevillea are found with these grasses. Low woodlands or tall shrublands of coolibah, Georgina gidgee (Acacia georginae), mulga (A. aneura) and other acacias and hakeas are found in the less sandy dune corridors. Low open shrublands of saltbush (Atriplexspp.) and bluebush (Maireana) are also present.

The fauna of the Simpson Desert is perhaps the most well understood of all of Australia’s deserts. The Eyrean grasswren (Amytornis goyderi), once thought to be extinct, is sparsely distributed across the Simpson Desert. The desert is important habitat for Ampurta/crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda), kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei) and Wilkiniti/dusky hopping mouse (Notomys fuscus).

Threatened species

Threatened or vulnerable species found within the Simpson Desert include:

Ten plant species and sixteen animal species found within the Simpson Desert are listed as rare or vulnerable in South Australia.

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. The Simpson Desert has a high density of camels, particularly in the Northern Territory and South Australian sections.

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.

High pasture utilisation of the interdune and drainage areas in the Queensland section of the Simpson Desert threatens vegetation by creating extensive areas of low cover that are prone to wind erosion.

Extraction and diversion of water from inland river systems reduces the water these areas receive and store, leading to the reduced health of waterholes, riverine and floodplain vegetation and the habitat they provide for fauna.

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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