The Strzelecki Desert, together with the Sturt Stony and Tirari deserts, forms the complex of desert country in north-eastern South Australia. The Simpson, Strzelecki and Tirari deserts are part of the Simpson–Strzelecki Dunefields (SSD) bioregion, comprising long parallel sand dunes, fringing dunefields, extensive sandplains, dry watercourses and saltpans. The Diamantina River and Cooper and Strzelecki creeks run through it.
The dune fields and sandplains are covered with sparse acacia shrublands with a mostly spinifex understorey. Coolabah and river red gum woodlands form along the watercourses which overflow from Cooper Creek. The Strzelecki Desert also contains areas of stony plain.
The Strzelecki Regional Reserve covers over 800,000 hectares of sand dune country, including Strzelecki Creek, in the South Australian section of the desert.
The Strzelecki Desert covers 110,000 square kilometres of land, mostly within South Australia. The eastern edges of the desert are in the south-west border region of Queensland and north-west border region of New South Wales.
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.
Flora and fauna
Thevegetation in the Strzelecki Desert is similar to that of the Simpson Desert: 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. Dune flanks often support a sparse, tall shrubland of acacia, eremophila and grevillea, with hard spinifex more common on the dune flanks in the Strzelecki than Simpson or Tirari deserts. Saltbush (Atriplex spp.) and bluebush (Maireanaspp.) are also found on swales and interdune flats.
River red gum (Eucalyptus camadulensis), coolibah (E. coolabah) and Broughton willow (Acacia sallcina) woodlands are found along drainage lines and floodplains. Swampy areas support swamp cane-garss (Eragrostis australasica) or lignum (Muehlenbeckia florulenta).
The Strzelecki Creek wetland system is one of Australia’s most important raptor breeding areas.
Threatened and vulnerable species recorded in the Strzelecki Desert include:
- Ampurta/Crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda)
- Wilkiniti/dusky hopping mouse (Notomys fuscus)
- Eyrean grasswren (Amytornis goyderi)
- Australian bustard (Aredeotis australis)
- Grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos)
- Woma python (Aspidites ramsayi)
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 herbivore ssuch 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 particularly 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.
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.
Visiting the Strzelecki Desert
The Birdsville Track and Strzelecki Track run through the desert.