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Australian Deserts

Image showing a map of Australian desertsAustralian Desert Facts

70% of the Australian mainland is classified as semi-arid, arid or desert; making it the driest inhabited continent on Earth. Only Antarctica is drier.

There are ten deserts in Australia: the Great Victoria Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Tanami Desert, Simpson Deset, Gibson Desert, Little Sandy Desert, Strzelecki Desert, Sturt Stony Desert, Tirari Desert, Pedirka Desert.

Only 3% of the Australian population live in the desert.

The main reason for the formation of the Australian deserts is their location. Like most major deserts across the world the they are found around a certain latitude (roughly 30° north/south of the equator) where the weather phenomena create a dry climate.

Rainfall is unpredictable. For example, Alice Springs supposedly has 270 mm a year but 70 % of years are below average.  It’s a land of droughts and flooding rains.

Central Australia consists of a diversity of habitats: ranges and gorges, woodlands, desert rivers, mulga woodland, sand country and salt lakes.

Soils are ancient and infertile. Nitrogen and phosphorus levels are, on average, less than half that found in other arid regions of the world.

Invertebrate herbivores dominate: grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, grubs and most importantly, termites.

Fire is important. Traditional Aboriginal patch burning created space for desirable ephemeral plants, favoured the survival of medium-sized mammals, recycled nutrients and prevented wildfires.

Exotic animals have wreaked havoc. Introduced rabbits, cattle, horses and camels have out-competed native herbivores for food and pushed their numbers to critically low levels where they’ve become vulnerable to predation by feral cats and foxes.

Australia has a terrible record for mammal extinction. 50% of all mammal species that have become extinct throughout the world in the last 200 years have been Australian. The following animals no longer exist:

The following animals are threatened with exticntion:

Compare with the Sonoran Desert.