Anything but a snorefest

While the desert in Central Australia seems to go on and on, a bit like Australia really, it has a huge amount of variety in terms of the geography and vegetation. There are old mountain ranges everywhere like the ancient MacDonnell Ranges that stretch over 400km’s, of which Alice Springs is set at the base. There are the George Gill Ranges in Watarrka National Park which features Kings Canyon as well as good old Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Atila (Mount Conner), etc, a few hundred km’s away.

In spite of the low rainfall and high temperatures, there’s a surprisingly rich and diverse range of plants and animals. A large part of this diversity can be attributed to the mountain ranges and rock formations mentioned. They help in lots of ways through facilitating permanent or semi-permanent water holes, providing shelter and refuge with overhangs, crevices and caves, moderate temperatures, and can increase rainfall.

A little foliatly challenged?

Most species have had to adapt with the unpredictability of the weather. In the case of plants they do it through drought tolerance and drought avoidance.

To help plants tolerate the desert many plants have features that aid water storage and minimise water loss. Some plants have small or very few leaves which are sometimes hard with a waxy or hairy surface and which often point down to minimise sun exposure. Others have succulent leaves or underground tubers for water storage while some have very deep root systems that enable them to tap into underground water supplies.

Other plants avoid drought by essentially remaining dormant throughout dry periods. For annuals and biennials they remain dormant as seeds until a major rainfall and then spring to life, and reproduce over a relatively short space of time. For perennials, they can lie dormant over long periods and then spring to life again when a decent rain comes. Many grasses display this trait while trees of this nature show more deciduous tendencies, sprouting new shoots and leaves after good rain.

Same time tomorrow night Rooby?

For desert animals, one of the easiest ways to avoid the heat of the day is to be nocturnal and hunt at night. Almost all mammals in the desert are nocturnal and about half of reptiles, although most birds are not. Many animals have burrows underground which moderates the temperature and means the burrows are cooler during the day and warmer at night.

This rain is making me horny

Many species also hibernate to get around extreme climatic conditions which lowers metabolic rate, conserving water, energy and lowering temperature. Some desert frogs lead a thoroughly exciting life, burrowing underground on sandy watercourses and claypans when it’s dry and can live like that for months or even years at a time. When the rains come, they spring to life burrowing to the surface to feed, have a bonk or two and then scuttle underground again when it dries out.

Some of the coolest critters on the planet

As would be expected, insects are the largest group of critters in the desert in terms of number and biomass by quite some margin. There is barely a square metre in the desert that doesn’t have ants zooming around. There is prolific reptile and lizard fauna including a large variety of snakes, geckos, goannas, skinks and dragons (just have a look at the tracks when walking in the morning). It is also home to Australia’s largest lizard, the Perentie, which can grow up to 2.5 metres in length. There are approximately 150 species of birds and of course, kangaroos and wallabies.

Central Australia really is an absolutely amazing place with its huge variety of critters and landscapes to explore. The sheer magnitude and timelessness of it will fill you with a sense of peace and tranquillity. It’s one of those places where feeling mortal is almost acceptable. Must be good!!