From the Big Desert

One of the main reasons this website exists is to increase outreach, or put more excitingly, to share with everyone the super cool conservation stuff I’m passionate about and fortunate enough to do as part of my job!

I’ve just got back from one of my new favorite places, Victoria’s Big Desert / Wyperfeld region. This region is about as remote as Victoria gets. It’s a large, relatively intact section of Mallee heath that is characterised by seemingly endless white sand and large dune systems.

The Big Desert / Wyperfeld system is vast and stunning!

The Big Desert / Wyperfeld system is vast and stunning!

On first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking this system is ‘simple’. However, its faunal diversity, particularly its reptiles, is quite outstanding, and the diversity of plants is well known. However, my reason for visiting this region recently was not to look at reptiles or admire the floristic diversity, but rather to examine other curious inhabitants of the region. Predators and herbivores, in particular dingoes/wild dogs and foxes, and kangaroos and goats, respectively.

Just what story does the owner of these footprints have to tell?

Just what story does the owner of these footprints have to tell?

The aim is to examine what areas of the landscape dogs are using and whether this in turn affects the distribution and abundance of kangaroos and goats, as we know occurs elsewhere in Australia. This is important work, as the dog population in this part of Victoria is unlikely to consist of ‘pure’ dingoes, and we know little about what ‘wild dogs’ do. The question is: what ecological function do these dogs perform?

Of course, dogs can also have impacts on livestock, particularly sheep, so we’ll be looking at what dogs are eating too (through various means including scat analysis) and how they use the public- and private-land interface (along a gradient from outside to inside the Big Desert / Wyperfeld park region).

Two honours students (Thomas Healey and Jessica Lawton) will also be starting work in the region very soon. Tom will be examining predator-predator interactions, and Jess, the response of small mammals to the presence of predators and fire. Together these studies will build on previous research in the region. And, as always with this type of work, we’ll be looking for eager volunteers to help us out.

Lastly, a piece of advice, when you travel to the Victorian desert in June, don’t forget your sleeping bag, imagine how cold that would be…!

It was cold up there, ice-on- the-windscreen cold. Lucky I was prepared, oh wait…

It was cold up there, ice-on- the-windscreen cold. Lucky I was prepared, oh wait…

Even Mallee roads get busy.

Even Mallee roads get busy.