, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 145-153

Vegetation change, erosion risk and land management on the Nullarbor Plain, Australia

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Abstract

 Arid karst landscapes that have been degraded by human activities provide a challenge for rehabilitation and an opportunity to test ideas about the stability and resilience of limestone ecosystems. The Nullarbor Plain is the largest arid karst area in Australia (220 000 km2) and is divided into extensive closed karstic depressions separated by low rocky ridges, while the dominant vegetation is chenopod shrubland. Since European settlement there has been considerable change in the vegetation, with significant reduction in shrub and grass cover over large areas of the plain. These changes are related to a state and transition model of vegetation dynamics which incorporates climatic variability, fire history and grazing pressure from sheep, kangaroos and rabbits. A partial sediment budget using 137Cs inventories reveals local and regional patterns of soil redistribution within this arid karst landscape. Rehabilitation of eroded soil in pastoral lands has been accomplished at several sites but is labour intensive and vulnerable to climatic fluctuations. Given the low stock numbers, limited number of people involved, and poor economic returns, it would be sensible to make pastoral activities on the Nullarbor secondary to conservation priorities. This would necessitate a change in land ethic to stewardship, with emphasis on rehabilitation and control of feral animals. Management of increased numbers of visitors to the caves and karst also requires that resource inventories and management plans for each area be drawn up and used.