Rain rejuvenates desert
TAKING a boat into the desert would not be everybody’s first thought.
But it was a no-brainer for Bush Heritage ecologist Max Tischler when he journeyed to the Simpson Desert recently to study the effects of massive rainfalls on its flora and fauna.
The Bangalow resident had seen the re-hydrated landscape from the air, but he and his colleague Adam Kerezsy were keen to look at what was happening on the ground – and in the water.
They were among the first scientists to get into the remote area after the big rains – the heaviest since the 1970s.
It took them two days to drive from Brisbane to reach the Bush Heritage reserves of Cravens Peak and Ethabuka, a total of 500,000 hectares.
The change in the landscape brought about by the massive volume of water that fell during March was ‘breathtaking’, Mr Tischler said.
“Everywhere you looked it was green. We saw channels of water that were perhaps 5km wide, which in an arid place like Western Queensland is amazing,” he said.
One of the permanent waterholes on the Mulligan River had grown to cover more than 800ha.
“There was an immediate flush of growth and animals in response,” Mr Tischler said.
Mammals started to reproduce immediately, and would continue to do so while the water lasted, he said.
Mr Tischler said pelicans also flew to the newly-formed lakes from as far away as Port Macquarie – though it was a mystery how they knew there would be water waiting for them.
Frogs that had spent most of their lives underground surfaced to splash about and breed.
“The nets we pulled in were absolutely teeming with fish, at least 10 species” Mr Tischler said.
“We’ve found three species that are new to the area, inc-luding the welch’s grunter and the yellowbelly. It’s incredible to think they’ve swum 300km to get here.”
About 15 species of birds were identified, including ducks and even silver gulls.
But the rains also mean it’s a boom season for feral animals.
The upsurge in foxes, cats and feral pigs could put ‘a real dent’ in the survival rates of birds, mammals and reptiles, Mr Tischler said, and would need ‘vigilant management’ by Bush Heritage.