The Simpson Desert

A fragile ecosystem by Caitlin Turner 5/6S PHPS


The Simpson Desert is the 4th largest Australian Desert and is about 3 times the size of Tasmania with sand dunes covering 75% of the desert. This fragile ecosystem is 19-24,000 years old. This harsh environment covers about 150,000 square kilometers of Australia. The weather in winter is regularly 18-24c with summer being normally 36-39c. The Simpson Desert is located in the middle of Australia, occupying parts of 2 states and 1 territory and has a large variety of fauna and flora.


This red sandy place has a few different types of plants. After a rare rain shower the place is wild with flowers everywhere. Also grass grows on the top of dunes and spinifex and shrubs between them. There is a variety of diverse plants like the sand hill cane-grass with a stem that collects the water needed to keep this plant alive. The parrot bush is a short bush normally less than 60 centimeters high which thrives in this environment. In addition the spiny fan-flower is a rigid tangled shrub that can grow up to two meters high in the desert and the wild flowers of all different colors are found everywhere. The various varieties of flora found in the Simpson Desert have adapted over time to survive in such harsh conditions by changing their leaf structure, so that they do not loose as much water from the sun's impact. Some have needle-like leaves, some have developed a waxy coating and others have formed furry hairs.


There are at least 34 native mammals, 231 birds, 22 amphibians, 13 fish, and 125 reptile species recorded in the Simpson Desert. There are a couple of rare animals like the Eyrean Grasswren and the Australian Bustard. Whilst 14% of the Simpson Desert mammal fauna are classified as threatened like the greater bilby, the hairy-footed dunnart, the dusky hopping mouse and the kowari. The various fauna species of the Simpson Desert have each adapted to their harsh surrounding environment by making small significant changes to how they survive. The Southern marsupial mole spends most of it's life underground, digging through the sand looking for insects and larvae to feast on away from the heat of the day. The Mulgara, a desert marsupial carnivore, are not fond of the heat and dig deep holes underground to get to cooler areas. They are also nocturnal which means that they sleep during the day and they are awake at night. The Spinifex Hoping Mouse has adapted to help keep their species alive, one of these adaptations is that they don't need to drink water because the roots and insects this species eats has enough water in them for them to live off. The Orange Chat Bird has slender legs which have adapted over time to enable them to run on the fine, soft sand. It also has a fine pointed beak for eating small insects. Finally the grey falcon, It is a rare medium-sized bird, one of the mystery birds of Australia, neither easily nor predictably seen.



The Simpson Desert is uniquely located in the middle of 2 states and 1 territory: South Australia, Queensland and The Northern Territory . The Desert runs from Alice Springs towards South Australia and the environment is found in one of the driest regions in Australia. The majority of the desert is found in The Northern Territory with smaller portions crossing the South Australian and Queensland borders.

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People come to see the Simpson Desert because of it's natural beauty, unique features and traditional heritage. Some of the attractions which promote tourism for the area are the natural springs, ruins and carvings. One of the hazards experienced by tourism in the area is by people that come to see the desert who are unprepared for the heat. Tours were closed by the government once, in the summer of 2008-2009 when the temperature reached between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. A lot of the things people come to see include Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest lake and the fifth largest terminal lake in the world, the rainbow valley with its beautiful landscape, the Ewaninga Rock carvings created by early indigenous inhabitants and chambers pillar a magnificent natural rock formation.

Simpson Desert Promo Video

Simpson Desert Promo

Threats and Dangers

The Simpson Desert has a variety of threats to its fragile ecosystem. There is the threat of coal seam mining, the invasion of domestic animals and the human tourism impact.


The wilderness society advises that "mining and petroleum exploration has increased exponentially in recent years with three mining applications proposed for the Simpson Desert region. Coal was identified beneath the Simpson Desert many years ago; it is very deep and of a low grade. Today, some companies believe that coal can be harnessed by debatable methods including coal seam gas/ fracking and underground coal gasification. These technologies pose significant contamination risks to underground water resources."

Contaminated water would affect the fauna and flora of the area as well as the mining has the potential to significantly change the appearance of the landscape which would interfere with the fragile ecosystem. The solution for protecting this fragile ecosystem would be not to mine such a low grade coal source and invest in harnessing more renewable energy sources such as solar energy.


Another threat to the area is the invasion of domestic animals. The number of rabbits in the Simpson Desert had grown so large that they were eating all of the natural vegetation in the area which was resulting in the plants not having time to re-grow and native animals not having enough to eat.

In 1995 the government made the decision to deliberately infect the animals with the calici virus which was aimed at controlling the rabbit numbers. The virus killed the rabbits within two days and resulted in numbers falling dramatically allowing the native plants and animals time to recover.


The biggest threat to the fragile ecosystem of the Simpson desert are humans! There are no serviced roads in the Simpson Desert making four wheel drives the preferred method of transportation. The vehicles do physical damage to the sand dunes and landscape with their tyre tracks. The exhaust fumes pollute the air and tourists impact the environment with camp fires and discarded rubbish.

Whilst permits are required to visit the area, the Simpson Desert is so large that rangers and authorities have difficulty supervising tourists to ensure that people are responsible and respectful for the fragile ecosystem.

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Interesting Facts

Scientist Richard Smith, in his DVD on the Natural History of Australia tells us that in the Ordovician period (444 to 488 million years ago) that the Simpson Desert was completely underwater and covered by the Larapinta seaway.

The Simpson Desert is one of the few places in Australia where the Eucalyptus, or more commonly known Gum tree, is poorly represented.

The tallest sand dune is called Nappanerica or Big Red which is 40 metres high!

The Simpson Desert was named after Alfred Allen Simpson, an Australian philanthropist and geographer.

The largest portion of the desert, which lies in the Northern Territory, is now Aboriginal Land, and you need a permit to enter it.

In 1980, Bob Beer was the first man to run the 420km across the Simpson Desert. At the age of 38, the crossing took him six days to complete.

Despite the extreme heat during the day in the Simpson Desert it is not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing at night time.

Thanks for reading! Hope you liked it.