Varanus storri is a rock dwelling species of goanna commonly found
in sandstone ranges in the Gulf Uplands.
Photo: Tony Griffiths
Spinifex under snappy gums near Cloncurry
Much of the biota inhabiting the sandstone ranges and stony
hills in the Gulf country can be found in other regions of northern
Australia. However, of all the environments in the Gulf country the
sandstone contains most of the rare and endemic species, as is
evident in their common names.
Some of these include:
- carpentarian rock gecko Gehyra Borroloola
- Hosmer's skink Egernia hosmeri
- Carpentarian grass-wren Amytornis dorothea
- Carpentarian sandstone antechinus Pseudantechinus
- Carpentarian lerista Lerista carpentariae.
The last two species have only recently been recorded on
mainland Australia, previously known only from islands in the Gulf
Other common species found here are the common rock-rat
Zyzomys argurus, euro Macropus robustus, and goannas
Varanus acanthurus and Varanus storri.
Vegetation on the sandstone is dominated by spinifex hummock
grass (Triodia spp.) with low mallee eucalypts and acacias.
The high diversity of plant species seen on the Arnhem Land
escarpment in Kakadu does not occur in the Gulf, possibly because
of lower rainfall. However, rare species such as the cycad Cycas
brunea occur in isolated patches. More botanical surveys of the
area are needed to provide a clearer picture of the Gulf region's
Riparian and wetland systems
Major river systems are important environments for many species
in the Gulf district because of the much lower annual rainfall than
the more northern savannas, and the searingly high temperatures
experienced during the summer months.
Birds such as the vulnerable purple-crowned fairy-wren Malurus
coronatus, also found in the Victoria River District,
live in the canegrass fringing the rivers. The endangered
gouldian finch Erythrura gouldiae also relies on
permanent water of the larger river systems. The riparian
forests are usually quite tall and are restricted to the thin
strip along the water's edge. They are commonally composed of
Eucalyptus papuana , paperbarks
Melaleuca leucadendra , Terminalia platyptera and an understorey
of Pandanus spiralis , Casuarina
cunninghami and freshwater mangrove Barringtonia acutangula . Lawn Hill
Gorge is an excellent example of the deep permanent water
characteristic of these important refuges.
To see a list of research findings for each species click on the
Rainforests are scattered throughout the inland areas of the
Gulf of Carpentaria, occurring in steep gorges and ravines, often
close to spring-fed waterholes. They represent significant habitats
for the carpentarian rock-rat Zyzomys
palatalis, a large rodent restricted to a few patches of
rainforests close to the Northern Territory-Queensland border,
which is listed as critically endangered. The rainforest itself
is home to many rare species of plant such as the vine
Tilocora australiana. Many of the rainforest patches are
very small, often less than 5 hectares, and are sometimes found
clinging to the edge of a rocky slope.
Much of the woodlands environment is dominated by undulating
rocky hills where low open eucalypt forests occur, and on the
deeper alluvial soils you may find pockets of taller forest
interspersed with grassland.
Low open woodland dominated by acacia
cambagei occur on alluvial surfaces throughout the Gulf Photo:
Melaleuca citrolens, a dwarf paperbark,
occurs in thick stands on clay soils between ridges, and
contains some rare plants species but these stands generally
have relatively few animal species.
Notable species found in the woodlands include
Among the commonly encountered species are the cockatiel
Nymphicus hollandicus and the bearded dragon Pogona
barbartus. The diversity and abundance of small mammal species
in the Gulf woodlands are very low compared with higher rainfall
woodland to the north, possibly because of limited availability of
daytime refuges among small trees.