Desert Ecology Research Group

Describing the diversity of terrestrial vertebrates
Our primary focus is to elucidate, by observation and field experiment, the factors that regulate diversity in the small vertebrates of arid Australia

Our aims

Our mission is to describe the many and varied patterns in the distributions, abundances and diversity of terrestrial vertebrates, and to understand the processes that create and shape them.

Photos by Aaron Greenville

Our research

Weathering the perfect storm: mitigating the post-fire impacts of invasive predators on small desert vertebrates

Wildfires deplete food and shelter resources for many native vertebrates, exposing them to increased predation from invasive predators such as the red fox and feral cat. Focusing on the fire-prone spinifex grasslands of central Australia, this project firstly identifies the role of specific refuge habitats that provide native species with protection in the post-fire environment, and then proposes an innovative experimental program to quantify and mitigate predation-impacts. The results will stimulate new thinking about predator-prey theory and, in an environment predicted to experience more wildfires in future, provide guidance about how to protect the rich biotic resources of the continental interior.

The renaissance predator: complex predator-prey interactions and vertebrate diversity in arid Australia

Predators are often viewed simply as animals that hunt live prey, but emerging evidence suggests that the effects usually quite subtle, sometimes positive, and reach far beyond the organisms that they kill. Using an extensive database of observations of vertebrates in the Simpson Desert, western Queensland this project first identifies the red fox and the sand goanna as key regional predators and then outlines a novel program of observations and experiments to quantify their effects on the broader prey community. The results will probe and extend current theory about predator-prey interactions, providing the first mechanistic understanding of how predation influences prey diversity in arid Australia, and enhance our ability to conserve and manage the rich biotic resources that characterize the vast inland regions.

Dynamic networks in a patchy landscape : will species interactions adjust to increased climatic extremes?

Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and more intense in the near future and, more than changes in climatic averages, are likely to have dramatic effects on species populations and on the suites of interactions that sustain them. In this project we first identify series of plant and animal assemblages that exhibit interaction networks, and then outline novel observations and experiments that quantify how they change among habitats during extreme events in the climatically unpredictable environment of the Simpson Desert, Queensland. The results will probe and extend current theory about how ecological systems respond to extreme events, and provide the first insights into the mechanisms that drive change. The results will also foreshadow the impacts of extreme events as they intensify in uncertain environments elsewhere, and thus enhance our ability to conserve and manage the rich biotic resources that characterize Australia’s vast inland regions.

Our people


For information about opportunities to work or collaborate with the Desert Ecology Research Group Lab, contact us or visit our website.

Christopher Dickman

Professor in Terrestrial Ecology
  • +61 2 9351 2318 (Office)
  • +61 2 9351 8577 (Lab)
  • Room 321 Heydon-Laurence Building A08

Glenda Maria Wardle

Professor of Ecology and Evolution
  • Room 319 Heydon-Laurence Building A08

Desert Ecology Research Group