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The Australian arid zone is a large complex area. In order to maintain its biodiversity, it is essential that landscape-wide and long-term analyses form the backdrop to the development of management strategies. From the current knowledge of the biodiversity and ecology of the arid zone, it is evident that there has been a loss of about 50% of the mammalian fauna and a reduction in the distribution and abundance of bird and reptile species since European settlement. But our knowledge of arid ecology is limited, with the majority of data representing a single snapshot in time, from sites that are a mere pinprick on this landscape, which constitutes 70% of the area of Australia. Scale, both spatial and temporal, is a critical issue underlying our understanding of this landscape. In this paper, three key elements affecting the biodiversity and ecology of this landscape are discussed: climate, fire and European settlement.

Rainfall is known to be highly variable in space, time and intensity yet it is routinely described by mean values. Understanding long term trends is of greater value for sustainable management. CUSUM analysis is a valuable technique for demonstrating rainfall trends and illustrating when trends change from a sequence of drying years to an increasing trend. It also provides an indication of water availability in the landscape. Most of our ecological knowledge has been collected within the last 50 years, a period of increasing water in the landscape when conditions have been good more often than they have been bad. Superimposed on this is the episodic nature of major ecological changes, with naturally occurring floods and fires shaping the landform and distribution of vegetation communities, in addition to the more subtle successional changes. Spatial heterogeneity is another critical element, with fertile patches ranging from centimetres to hundreds of kilometres in size scattered across an infertile landscape.

There is no one recipe for the sustainable management of the arid landscape. Flexible, adaptable management strategies, based on a long-term understanding and analysis, are required. It will also be critical to effectively engage land managers through the development of environmental stewardship programmes and rewards to encourage management for biodiversity alongside production. Integral to these management strategies is the careful use of fire, a tool lost by the removal of Aboriginal management. Some ecological parameters have been defined for the centre and west of the arid zone, where most research has been carried out. While some of these are relevant in the east, it differs ecologically and in terms of the severity of the impact of European settlement. There is an urgent need for further ecological research in the east of the arid zone.

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Botterill, L. C. 2003. Uncertain climate: the recent history of drought policy in Australia. Australian Journal of Politics and History 49: 61-74.
Braithwaite, R. W. and Muller, W. J. 1997. Rainfall, groundwater and refuges: predicting extinctions of Australian tropical mammal species. Australian Journal of Ecology 22: 57-67.
Brandle, R. 1998 A Biological Survey of the Stony Deserts, South Australia. 1994-1997. South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide.
Brook, A., Fleming, M. and Kutsche F. 2004 Spatial audit of rangelands remote from water. Rangeland Society 13th Biennial Conference, Alice Springs, 5-8 July 2004.
Burbidge, A. A., Johnson, K. A., Fuller, P. J. and Southgate, R. I. 1988. Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the central deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 15: 9-39.
Burbidge, A. A. and McKenzie, N. L. 1983. Wildlife of the Great Sandy Desert. Wildlife Research Bulletin, Western Australia. 12: 1-27.
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CSIRO 2003. The dispersal, impact and management of buffel grass ( Cenchrus ciliaris) in desert Australia. Research Briefing Note. Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre. www.desertknowledge.com.au Accessed 15/08/2005.
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References

Allan, G. E. 1984. Fire history and land units of Uluru. Pp 13-24 in Anticipating the Inevitable: A patch-burn strategy for fire management at Uluru (Ayers Rock- Mt Olga) National Park, edited by E. C. Saxon. CSIRO Australia.
Allan, G. and Baker, L. 1990. Uluru (Ayers Rock - Mt Olga) National Park: an assessment of a fire management programme. Pp 215-220 in Australian Ecosystems 200 Years of Utilisation, Degradation and Reconstruction, edited by D. A. Saunders, A. J. M. Hopkins and R. A. How. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia Vol 16.
Allan, G. E. and Southgate, R. I. 2002. Fire regimes in the spinifex landscapes of Australia. Pp 145-176 in Flammable Australia. The Fire Regimes and Biodiversity of a Continent, edited by R. A. Bradstock, J. E. Williams and M. A. Gill. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
Biograze 2000. Biograze: Waterpoints and Wildlife. CSIRO Alice Springs. http://www.cazr.csiro.au/biograze Accessed 15 August 2005.
Botterill, L. C. 2003. Uncertain climate: the recent history of drought policy in Australia. Australian Journal of Politics and History 49: 61-74.
Braithwaite, R. W. and Muller, W. J. 1997. Rainfall, groundwater and refuges: predicting extinctions of Australian tropical mammal species. Australian Journal of Ecology 22: 57-67.
Brandle, R. 1998 A Biological Survey of the Stony Deserts, South Australia. 1994-1997. South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide.
Brook, A., Fleming, M. and Kutsche F. 2004 Spatial audit of rangelands remote from water. Rangeland Society 13th Biennial Conference, Alice Springs, 5-8 July 2004.
Burbidge, A. A., Johnson, K. A., Fuller, P. J. and Southgate, R. I. 1988. Aboriginal knowledge of the mammals of the central deserts of Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 15: 9-39.
Burbidge, A. A. and McKenzie, N. L. 1983. Wildlife of the Great Sandy Desert. Wildlife Research Bulletin, Western Australia. 12: 1-27.
Burbidge A. A. and McKenzie N. L. 1989. Patterns in the modern decline of western Australia's vertebrate fauna: causes and conservation implications. Biological Conservation 50: 143-98.
Cambell, D. 1994. Clearing and Cultivation in the Western Division. Pp 201-205 in Future of the fauna of western New South Wales, edited by D. Lunney, S. Hand, P. Reed and D. Butcher. Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Mosman.
Christian, C. S., Noakes, L. C., Perry, R. A., Slatyer, R. O., Stewart, G. A. and Traves, D. M. 1954 Survey of the Barkley Region, Northern Territory and Queensland, 1947-48. Land Research Series No. 3. CSIRO Australia.
Clark, R. L. 1990. Ecological history for environmental management. Australian Ecosystems 200 Years of Utilisation, Degradation and Reconstruction. Pp 1-21 in Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia Vol 16. edited by D. A. Saunders, A. J. M. Hopkins and R. A. How.
Crapper, P. F., Fleming, P. M. and Kalma, J. D. 1995. Seasonal rainfall anomalies and the level of Lake Goran. Pp 207-213 in Volume 1: Agriculture, Catchment Hydrology and Industry, Proceedings of MODSIM 95: International Congress on modelling and simulation, edited by P. Binning, H. Bridgman and B. Williams.
Copley, P. B., Kemper, C. M. and Medlin, G. C. 1989. The mammals of north-western South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum 23: 75-88.
CSIRO 2003. The dispersal, impact and management of buffel grass ( Cenchrus ciliaris) in desert Australia. Research Briefing Note. Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre. www.desertknowledge.com.au Accessed 15/08/2005.
Denny, M. 1987. Historical and ecological study of the effects of European settlement in inland NSW. Report by the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales to the Heritage Council of New South Wales.
Denny, M. 1994. Investigating the past: an approach to determining the changes in the fauna of the Western Division of New South Wales since the first explorers. Pp 53-63 in Future of the fauna of western New South Wales, edited by D. Lunney, S. Hand, P. Reed and D. Butcher. Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Mosman.
Desert Knowledge CRC 2005. Strategic Directions and Projects. www.desertknowledge.com.au Accessed 15/08/2005.
Dickman, C. R., Pressey, R. L., Lim, L. and Parnaby, H. E. 1993. Mammals of particular conservation concern in the western division of New South Wales. Biological Conservation 65: 219-248.
Finlayson, H. H. 1961. On central Australian mammals. Part IV - The distribution and status of central Australian species. Records of the South Australian Museum 13: 235-302.
Foulkes, J. N. 2001 The Ecology and Management of the Common Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula in Central Australia. PhD Thesis, University of Canberra, Australia.
Friedel, M. H., Foran, B. D. and Stafford Smith, D. M. 1990. Where the creeks run dry or ten feet high: pastoral management of arid Australia. Pp 185-194 in Australian Ecosystems 200 Years of Utilisation, Degradation and Reconstruction, edited by D. A. Saunders, A. J. M. Hopkins and R. A. How. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia Vol 16.
Freidel, M. H., Laycock, W. A. and Bastin, G. N. 2000. Assessing rangeland condition and trend. Pp 227-262 in Field and Laboratory Methods for Grassland and Animal Production Research, edited by L. t'Mannetje and R. M. Jones. CAB International, Wallingford, UK. 447 pp.
Gentilli, J. ed. 1971 Climates of Australia and New Zealand. World Survey of Climatology Volume 13. Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam.
Gibson, D. F. 1986 A biological survey of the Tanami Desert in the Northern Territory. Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, Technical report 30: 1-258.
Griffin, G. F. 1984. Climate, Vegetation, Man and Fire. Pp 7-12 in Anticipating the Inevitable: A patch-burn strategy for fire management at Uluru (Ayers Rock- Mt Olga) National Park, edited by E. C. Saxon. CSIRO Australia.
Griffin, G. F. and Friedel, M. H. 1984a. Effects of fire on central Australian rangelands. I Fire and fuel characteristics and changes in herbage and nutrients. Australian Journal of Ecology 9: 381-93.
Griffin, G. F. and Friedel, M. H. 1984b. Effects of fire on central Australian rangelands. II Changes in tree and shrub populations. Australian Journal of Ecology 9: 395-403.
Griffin, G. F. and Friedel, M. H. 1985. Discontinuous change in central Australia: some implications of major ecological events for land management. Journal of Arid Environments 9: 63-80.
Griffin, G. F. and Hodgkinson, K. C. 1986. The use of fire for the management of the mulga land vegetation in Australia. Pp 93-97 in The Mulga Lands, edited by P. S. Sattler. Royal Society of Queensland.
Gosper, C. 2002. Darling Riverine Plains. Biodiversity Survey. Technical Report. www.npws.nsw.gov.au A project undertaken for the NSW Biodiversity Strategy, Department of Environment and Conservation, NSW.
Happold, M. 1983. Desert Mouse Pseudomys desertor. Pp. 402-3 in The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals, edited by R. Strahan. Angus and Robertson Publishers, Sydney.
Heywood, J., Hodgkinson, K., Marsden, S. and Pahl, L. 2000 Graziers’ Experiences in Managing Mulga Country. DPI Queensland and NSW Agriculture.
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