Gilgai country

Graeme Finlayson
Published 23 Jul 2020 
about  Boolcoomatta Reserve  
A Planigale is among the small marsupials that rely on Gilgai to provide some shelter.<br/> A Planigale is among the small marsupials that rely on Gilgai to provide some shelter.
An Emu father with chicks. Photo Graeme Finlayson.<br/> An Emu father with chicks. Photo Graeme Finlayson.
Swainson-peas.<br/> Swainson-peas.
Pockets of vegetation spring up around gilgais.<br/> Pockets of vegetation spring up around gilgais.
An Inland Dotterel.<br/> An Inland Dotterel.

Out on the Mundi Mundi Plains on the eastern half of Boolcoomatta Station Reserve, you could be forgiven for thinking these vast dry plains must be devoid of life.

At first glance it would appear that there's very little (if any) cover, hardly any food (plants or animals), and extreme exposure to the elements, be it the below-zero nights in winter, or summer days that see the mercury rise above 50 degrees.

What makes life even more challenging, certainly in recent times, is consecutive years of well below-average rainfall, with under 60mm of total rainfall in 2019 and under 30mm so far this year.

However, on closer inspection of this flat, parched landscape, there are some clues as to what is available to enable survival. Throughout the plains are numerous depressions, the result of the expansion and contraction of soil by seasonal wetting and drying.

These ‘gilgais’ act as a source for the capture of water after rainfall events. Even during these dry times, the response in vegetation after a small amount of rain is most prominent around these gilgais.

They provide micro-relief patches that catch seeds, leaf material, and are also the depressions that make shelter possible for the numerous little critters that inhabit the area.

Fat-tailed and Stripe-faced Dunnarts, and the Narrow-nosed Planigale are crowd favourites, but there's also a myriad of invertebrates, providing essential prey for these vivacious carnivorous marsupials, as well as skinks, dragons and several bird species including the Inland Dotterel, which we even observed with chicks this week. There are also a number of younger Emu chicks emerging which is always great to see. 

Even after a small amount of rain, the landscape changes, with flowering Swainson-peas and daisies providing a colourful alternative to the dry and dusty chenopod plains that have been thirsty for over two years.

A Planigale is among the small marsupials that rely on Gilgai to provide some shelter.<br/> A Planigale is among the small marsupials that rely on Gilgai to provide some shelter.
An Emu father with chicks. Photo Graeme Finlayson.<br/> An Emu father with chicks. Photo Graeme Finlayson.
Swainson-peas.<br/> Swainson-peas.
Pockets of vegetation spring up around gilgais.<br/> Pockets of vegetation spring up around gilgais.
An Inland Dotterel.<br/> An Inland Dotterel.