Cross-cultural systematic biological surveys in Australia's Western Desert

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


Faculty Office (CHS)




This article was originally published as: Brennan, K., Twigg, P., Watson, A. C., Pennington, A., Sumner, J., Davis, R., Jackson, J., Brooks, B., Grant, F., & Underwood, R. (2012). Cross-cultural systematic biological surveys in Australia's Western Desert. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 72-80.


We describe small-scale biological surveys conducted by a collaboration of biologists and Traditional Owners designed to build scientific knowledge of the biota in remote desert regions of Western Australia. Importantly, while science driven (including systematic survey methods), the project also incorporated Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK). In doing so, it has assisted with cross-generational transfer and preliminary documentation of IEK in this region. Here, we describe a case study of surveys conducted with the Pila Nguru (Spinifex People) in the Spinifex Native Title Determined Area of the Great Victoria Desert. A total of 185 native plant species were recorded (representing 37 families and 94 genera). Only one individual of a weed species was recorded. Three plant species are new to science; Grevillea ilkurlka ms. Dicrastylis sp. 'Ilkurlka' and Gnephosis sp., with the first two of these species of conservation interest. The survey recorded 148 species of vertebrates; 72 birds, 21 mammals (of which six were introduced), 54 reptiles and one frog. Many animal names used by the Spinifex People were documented. The following animals that are of conservation interest were recorded: Itjarri-itjarri (Southern Marsupial Mole, Notoryctes typhlops), Nganamarra (Malleefowl, Leipoa ocellata), Murrtja (Brush-tailed Mulgara, Dasycercus blythi), and Princess Parrot (Polytelis alexandrae). We concur with previous authors that biological surveys, when cross-cultural, can not only build scientific knowledge, but contribute to broader social goals of assisting Aboriginal people with cross-generational transfer and documenting of IEK.