Tirari Desert


The Tirari Desert, along with the Strzelecki and Sturt Stony deserts, forms the complex of desert country in north-eastern South Australia. The Tirari is part of the Simpson–Strzelecki Dunefields (SSD) bioregion.

Cooper Creek flows through the Tirari Desert, allowing a  corridor of coolibah shrubland to flourish. The desert also contains salt lakes and sand dunes, which run from north to south. The dunes are covered with canegrass and sparse acacia shrubland.

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

Geographical area

The 15,000 square kilometres of the Tirari desert lies fully within South Australia. The Simpson Desert lies to its north and the Sturt Stony and Strzelecki deserts lie to its east.


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

Dieri people

Flora and fauna

The vegetation of the Tirari Desert is similar to that of the Simpson and Strzelecki deserts: 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. Saltbush (Atriplexspp.) and bluebush (Maireanaspp.) are also found on swales and interdune flats. Narrow river red gum (Eucalyptus camadulensis) and coolibah (E. coolabah) woodlands are found around permanent waterholes along Cooper Creek.

Threatened species

Threatened and vulnerable species recorded in the Tirari Desert include:

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.

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
Sturt Stony
Great Sandy
Little Sandy
  • 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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