Great Sandy-Tanami Desert

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Dingo in the Tanami Desert, Northern Territory Photograph by

The Great Sandy-Tanami Desert is an arid ecoregion of northern and western Australia that comprises a land area of approximately 317,800 square miles. The ecoregion is classified within the biome of Deserts & Xeric Shrublands. The desert itself is home to the iconic landform known as Uluru or Ayers Rock, a feature sacred to the Anangu aborigines of this region.

The ecoregion is home to four endemic reptile species, and is a place where a number of threatened or endangered birds, mammals and one additional reptile taxon can be found.

caption Great Sandy-Tanami Desert within Australia. Source: World Wildlife Fund & Peter Saundry

Location and general description

The Great Sandy-Tanami Desert occupies a considerable fraction of the Northern Territory of Australia as well as a large portion of Western Australia.The ecoregion is actually an amalgamation of two tangent deserts: the Great Sandy Desert in the west and the Tanami Desert in the east.

The southern locale of the Tanami Desert, in the vicinity of the Uluru formation, features a gamut of waterholes, springs, sandstone rock caves and ancient rock art paintings. Uluru itself is inscribed as a World Heritage Site.

Biodiversity features

A total of 404 distinct vertebrate taxa have been recorded within the Great Sandy-Tanami Desert. Endemic reptile species include the Great Sandy Desert lerista (Lerista vermicularis), speckled lerista (Lerista taeniata), Kenneally's gecko (Diplodactylus kenneallyi) and the Lake Disappointment gecko (Diplodactylus fulleri), Other notable reptiles found in this ecoregion include the endangered woma (Aspidites ramsayi).

caption Tanami Desert, Northern Territory, Australia Photograph by

Notable bird species occurring in the ecoregion are: the Near Threatened letter-winged kite (Elanus scriptus), the Vulnerable painted honeyeater (Grantiella picta), the Near Threatened Alexandra's parrot (Polytelis alexandrae), the Near Threatened Australian bustard (Ardeotis australis), the Near Threatened black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), the Near Threatened bush thick-knee (Burhinus grallarius) and the Near Threatened grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos).

Special status mammals found in the Great Sandy-Tanamki Desert are: the Near Threatened Schreibers long-fingered bat (Miniopteris schreiberii), the Vulnerable white-throated glasswren (Amytomis woodwardi), the Vulnerable Australian false vampire bat (Macroderma gigas), the Vulnerable bilby (Macrotis lagotis), the Near Threatened black-footed rock wallaby (Petrogale lateralis) and the Critically Endangered central rock rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus).


Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is an important element of the ecoregion, situated at the extreme southern portion of the Great Sandy-Tanami Desert. The Anangu people are the legal owners of the National Park, and utilise the holding to cradle the memory of ancient history and the relationship os the Anangu to their ancestral homeland. Kata Tjuta is a omposite group of 36 conglomerate rock domes that date to 500,000,000 years before present. Both the Uluru formation and the Kata Tjuta landform represent important cultural and religious symbols for the Anangu; in fact, Anangu belief holds that these features are evidence of the lands that were created by deity for the Anangu people.

Dawn view of Uluru (Ayers Rock) with Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) in background, enhanced image. Sopurce: Wikimedia Commons.


Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park

On the perimeter of the Great Sandy Desert in the western portion of the ecoregion there is a large well preserved meteorite impact crater. This locale has been designated as an Australian National Park. The Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park is situated at the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, and it is composed chiefly of desert plains and spinifex grassland. The crater itself is roughly circular with an approximate diameter of 880 metres, and dates to the Pleistocene.

Source: Protected Planet

Current status

The conservation status of the Great Sandy-Tanami Desert is classified by the World Wildlife Fund as: Relatively Stable/Intact. The ecoregion is a designated G200 area, meaning that it is considered as a worldwide priority for conservation.

Types and severity of threats

The operation of the National Parks poses a certain degree of threat, particularly the Ularu-Kata Tjuta National Park which brings extensive visitation to the region. Most of the ecoregion, however, is sufficiently underpopulated that human threats are not great.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

The Great Sandy-Tanami Desert ecoregion is a vast area including three IBRAs: ‘Little Sandy Desert’, ‘Great Sandy Desert’, and ‘Tanami’ (Thackway and Cresswell 1995). The region consists of desert sandridges and sandplains with tree steppe, shrubs, and open hummock grassland. The ecoregion is denoted AA1304 by the World Wildlife Fund.

References and notes

  • R.Thackway and I.D.Cresswell. editors. 1995. An Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia: a framework for establishing the national system of reserves, Version 4.0. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
  • David N.Young, N.Duncan, A.Camacho, P.A.Ferenczi and T.L.A Madigan. 2002. Ayers Rock, Northern Territory, Map Sheet GS52-8 (2nd edition) (Map). 1:250 000. Northern Territory Geological Survey. Geological Map Series Explanatory Notes.
  • Klaus K.E.Neuendorf, James P.Mehl, Jr.,  and Julia A.Jackson. eds. 2005. Glossary of Geology (5th ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Geological Institute. ISBN 0-922152-76-4.
  • P.R.Sanday. 2007. Aboriginal Paintings of the Wolfe Creek Crater: Track of the Rainbow Serpent, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Uluru - Kata Tjuta Board of Management and Parks Australia. 2000. Fourth Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park Plan of Management. Commonwealth of Australia. Canberra.
  • Portions of the Justification of ecoregion delineation text were prepared by Angas Hopkins of the World Wildlife Fund


Hogan, C. (2014). Great Sandy-Tanami Desert. Retrieved from


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