Biodiversity publications archive

Refugia for biological diversity in arid and semi-arid Australia

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 4
S.R. Morton, J. Short and R.D. Barker, with an Appendix by G.F. Griffin and G. Pearce
Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995

7. Foci of biological diversity in Queensland

7.1. Gulf Plains


210,876 km².

Primary land-use

Grazing for cattle.

National Parks and Nature Reserves


Management problems

Land degradation due to over-grazing or concentration of stock around waters, and invasion by the weed rubber vine Cryptostegia grandiflora (Cummings et al. 1993).

ANZECC-listed species

A dasyurid, the Julia Creek dunnart Sminthopsis douglasi (E), is known from 11 localities north of Julia Creek and Richmond (Woolley 1992).

Species that are regionally endemic

No information.

Relict populations

No information.

Other significant populations

The spectacled hare-wallaby Lagorchestes conspicillatus occurs uncommonly across the Region (Johnson and Lyon 1985).

The plants Cartonema baileyi, Benincasa hispida, Fimbristylis micans, Eucalyptus gilbertensis, and Hedyotis sp. were listed as rare or threatened by Thomas and McDonald (1989).

The Region includes the Wellesley Islands. Little appears to be known about the biota of this group of Islands, but given that preliminary investigations of the Pellew group in the Northern Territory so quickly revealed their refuge status it would be surprising if the Wellesleys did not also contain important relict species.


The following information is summarised from Blackman et al. (1993).

Bluebush Swamp: The wetland, south-west of Burketown, is a large, partially-infilled swamp dominated by an Acacia stenophylla shrub community with extremely localised distribution, and with some areas of shallow free water. It is an important habitat for waterbirds.

Gregory River: The largest perennial stream in arid and semi-arid Queensland, characterised by a forested wetland on its upper reaches. The area encompasses the nationally significant Riversleigh fossil beds associated with the Coal Creek Limestone formation.

Lignum Swamp: The swamp is part of an extensive plain drained by intermittent streams of the Carpentaria drainage system. It is vegetated with gidgee Acacia cambagei and lignum Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii.

Marless Lagoon and Musselbrook Creek Aggregation: Forested wetlands on upland margins grading into shrubby wetland in shallow waters, dominated by Acacia stenophylla and Eucalyptus microtheca and with areas of open water or macrophytes. The wetlands are characterised by Acacia stenophylla communities – such swamps are localised in their occurrence and apparently restricted to the north-west part of the Gulf Plains.

Nicholson Delta Aggregation: The Nicholson, Gregory and Albert Rivers flow from the North West Highlands into the Gulf of Carpentaria immediately to the west of Burketown and flood out on the Karumba Plain, resulting in a freshwater wetland merging with an extensive estuarine system to form a rich complex of wetland habitats. There are deep permanent lagoons, oxbows as well as channels.

Wentworth Aggregation: Gold and Settlement Creeks originate in the adjacent North West highlands and drain northwards into the Gulf of Carpentaria, north-west of Burketown. The freshwater wetlands may vary in depth from several metres and range from seasonal to permanent. Tidal creeks vary with flooding and tides to c.5m. The area represents an alluvial and estuarine wetland systems typical of the far north of state, and is of high wilderness quality.


The composite Gregory and Nicholosn River wetlands are recognised as a refuge (see section 13.2). As noted above, the Wellesley Islands deserve further investigation.