Desert

The Desert subregion largely covers the inner east area of Western Australia. It is bordered by the Goldfields-Nullarbor subregion in the south, the Kimberley subregion in the North, the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Murchison subregions to the west and South Australia and the Northern Territory to the east. The Desert subregion covers six IBRA bioregions: the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert, the Little Sandy Desert, the Great Victoria Desert, the Central Ranges and Tanami. This subregion is sparsely populated and consists of Aboriginal communities and mining centres.

The Desert subregion has been home to the Aboriginal people for thousands years and has had very little interference from the Europeans, however, there have been a number of exploration expeditions within this region.

There are very few settlements however the margins of this region support some economic activities; primarility mining e.g. Telfer Gold Mine and Nifty Copper Mine, pastoralism, tourism and Indigenous art.

History and Economy

The Desert subregion has been home to the Aboriginal people for thousands years and has had very little interference from Europeans, however there have been a number of exploration expeditions within this region.Colonel Peter Egerton-Warburton CMG, a British explorer, was the first European to cross the Great Sandy Desert, which he did between 1873 to 1874. In 1874, British-born Australia explorer Ernest Giles named the Gibson Desert after a member of his party, Alfred Gibson, who became lost in the desert and presumably died. In 1875, Giles became the first European to cross the Great Victorian Desert, which he named after the then reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. Later, in 1891, David Lindsey, an Australian exporer born in Goolwa, South Australia, conducted an expedition that crossed the Great Victorian Desert from North to South.There are very few settlements in the subregion but the margins of this region support some economic activities, these include mining e.g. Telfer Gold Mine and Nifty Copper Mine, pastoralism, tourism and Indigenous art.

Natural Environment

Climate

The climate of the Desert subregion is hot and arid. Rainfall in this region can be variable and unpredictable in parts or it can be summer or winter dominant.Tropical cyclones can sometimes cross the coast and penetrate well inland to the Desert subregion. Their winds rapidly lose strength as they pass over the land, however the rains can reach deep inland.

Hydrology

Hydrology of the Desert subregion is limited to short ephemeral creeks and rivers, which only flow after heavy rainfalls. In the northern limits of the Great Sandy Desert IBRA region there are the Rudall River, Cotton River and Dragon Tree Soak. The Rudall River flows about 120 km into Lake Dora and is a significant wetland/ecological refuge for the region as it contains major permanent waterholes and soaks. Dragon Tree soak is a freshwater spring that supplies freshwater to the marsh and peatland.

The desert region also has a number of salt lakes e.g. Lake Disappointment and Lake Mackay.

Flora and Fauna

Biodiversity of the Desert varies across extensive terrestrial ecosystems. Each of the IBRA subregions within the desert region support a number of threatened flora and fauna species.

The Great Sandy Desert supports 1 threatened plant species and 30 threatened animal species. The Little Sandy Desert supports 1 threatened plant species and 6 threatened animal species. Almost 12% of the Gibson Desert is protected in reserves and the bioregion supports 5 threatened animal species. More than 15% of the Great Victoria Desert is protected in reserves and the bioregion supports 9 threatened plant species and 24 threatened animal species. More than 15% of the Central Ranges is protected in reserves and the bioregion supports 3 threatened plant species and 23 threatened animal species. The Tanami IBRA subregion supports 1 threatened plant and 25 threatened animal species.

Vegetation

Vegetation of the desert subregion is predominately desert grasslands e.g. hummock grasslands, scattered trees and shrubs e.g. eucalypts, Acacia, Hakea and Grevillea, and mulga parkland.

IBRA Subregions

The Desert contains six IBRA sub-regions: Great Sandy Desert, Little Sandy Desert, Gibson Desert, Great Victoria Desert, Central Ranges and Tanami. To read more about IBRA subregions, and to access the Australian Government’s detailed descriptions of each, see the IBRA subregions page.