Bush Blitz visits Little Desert National Park at the end of October 2019, with a large team of taxonomists, to survey the variety of plants and animals of these arid lands. Follow their story here to find out what unique flora and fauna could be uncovered.

Apply for your class to speak with scientists over a video conference at this Bush Blitz.

Pre-expedition Video

In the field Video

The two scientists in the video are:

Joseph Schubert

Joseph works as a Registration Officer for Entomology and Arachnology at Museums Victoria. He has a background in invertebrate systematics, having described various species of Maratus (peacock spiders), and co-publishing a preliminary revision of the genus Jotus (brushed jumping spiders).

In his role as a Legacy Registration Officer at Museums Victoria, it is his duty to physically and electronically register invertebrate specimens to the Museums database which helps them effectively manage the collections, and ensures the data is available to the public.  The records and data is available through MV Collections online, and through other online aggregators such as Atlas of Living Australia, making them accessible to researchers around the globe.

Dr Ken Walker

Dr Ken Walker is a senior curator in the entomology (insects and spiders) section. He has worked at Museums Victoria since 1981. His research interests are native Australian bees (in particular the family Halictidae) and pollination syndromes (what bee pollinates what plant).

Ken has described over 150 new species of native bees, especially in the genera Homalictus and Lasioglossum, and he has several species of Australian bees named after him. He also created one of the first websites (called Bioinformatics) which allowed the public to directly query the museum specimens, and also allowed users to find out what butterfly, frog, lizard, snake or mammal occurred in their local area.

Recently, he has become a strong advocate for citizen science – encouraging the public to contribute to scientific discovery, and was lead of a team which developed the successful citizen science website BowerBird, which has attracted many contributors from around Australia.

Background Information

Little Desert National Park 1 is located 375km west of Melbourne in the Wimmera region, extending from the South Australian border on the west and the Wimmera river on the east boundary of the park. The closest towns to the park are Dimboola, Nhill and Kaniva. Today it is popular for camping, 4WD-ing, birdwatching and bush walking, attracting about 50,000 visitors each year 2.


Landscape, Vegetation and Ecology

The Park is named “Little Desert” due to the sandy soils and dunes, low rainfall, as well as it’s relatively smaller size to the Big Desert Wilderness area further north 2. The landscape is characterised by low irregular Quaternary sand dunes and sand sheets (Lowan Sands) with a relief of generally less than 20m. However soil type does vary across the park, and will generally determine the type of vegetation community, combined with relative rainfall amount 5.

Vegetation communities in the Park range from woodlands of Yellow Gum, River Red Gum and Black Box, through open woodlands of Desert Stringybark, to expansive Desert Banksia and Sheoak heathlands. The remnant vegetation of the Park has high conservation significance.

The Wimmera River is the main watercourse in the Wimmera region, but very limited flow from the river reaches Little Desert. Increasing levels of salinity, high turbidity and high nutrient load are concerns for the health of the river, and has implications for conservation and landscape values 5. The Wimmera River also contains a high cultural value, and a 200m heritage corridor from each river bank extends from Polkemmet to the end of the river in Wyperfeld National Park.

Little Desert National Park supports quite a rich biodiversity of plants and animals. Within the park, there are approximately 670 species of plants, and 200 species of birds; including the Malleefowl, Wedge-Tailed Eagle and the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo, 60 species of mammal including possums, the black-faced kangaroo, the silky desert mouse, and reptiles such as the bearded dragon and the short-tailed snake.

Malleefowl are a curious bird, with no known similar species 4. Instead of building a nest like most birds, they build a mound of organic matter and sand, and lay their eggs into a cavity at the top. As the leaves break down and compost, they release heat which incubates the eggs. The male often checks the temperature of the mound by sticking his beak into the mound. Leaf litter may be added or removed to regulate the temperature 4. In Victoria, Malleefowl are currently listed as endangered, and are vulnerable to predation from foxes and feral cats, as well as habitat loss and too-frequent fire 3.


Image courtesy of Donald Hobern/Flickr


History

The Wotjobaluk, Wergaia, Jadawadjali, Jaadwa and Jupagalk people are the Traditional Owners of the Little Desert National Park, and have inhabited the area for tens of thousands of years 6.

Early settlers avoided the area because of the infertile sandy soils, and low rainfall. However some sheep and cattle grazing still occurred. Much of the area surrounding regions were cleared for farming, with the little desert remaining an “island of biodiversity in a sea of agriculture” 2.

The Park has an interesting history, where in the 1960s the “battle for Little Desert” took place – a fight between those who wanted to preserve the area as national park, and those who wanted it open for farming 2. These events were likely the beginning of widespread environmental awareness and environmental activism in Australia. This environmental case study is now part of the VCE curriculum for Outdoor and Environmental studies 2.

The Park is the second largest national park in Victoria with an area of 132,647 ha, which consists of three almost separate blocks. Most visitor facilities are concentrated in the eastern block. The central and west blocks are quite remote with access limited to 4WD-only tracks 3.

Fire management of the Park is a current issue, as repeated fires have caused a decline in Malleefowl numbers, and small plants have been destroyed before they could reproduce seeds for the next generation 3.

References

1 Little Desert https://www.wimmeramalleetourism.com.au/our-towns/little-desert-national-park-victoria

2 https://vnpa.org.au/lessons-little-desert/

3 http://vnpa.org.au/parks/little-desert-national-park/

4 https://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/malleefowl

5 https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/313337/Little-Desert-National-Park-Management-Plan.pdf

6 https://www.visitmelbourne.com/regions/grampians/things-to-do/nature-and-wildlife/national-parks-and-reserves/vv-little-desert-national-park