Issue 5
Monday, 02 July 2018
Charles Darwin University
E-news
PhD candidate Ellen Ryan-Colton examining how buffel grass is changing the arid landscape. Image: Patrick Nelson
PhD candidate Ellen Ryan-Colton examining how buffel grass is changing the arid landscape. Image: Patrick Nelson

New look at buffel impact on arid land and culture

By Patrick Nelson

The buffel grass invasion into the northwest corner of South Australia has prompted a new ecological study to determine the weed’s impact on plants and animals, including some species that are culturally important to the Anangu people of the region.

Charles Darwin University PhD candidate Ellen Ryan-Colton said the traditional people of the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands had asked for a deeper understanding about the changes they saw taking place in their country.

“There is a concern that buffel grass has made it more difficult for Aboriginal people to find the ‘maku’, an edible root-dwelling larvae (also known as the witchetty grub),” Ellen said.

“Apart from being a bush food, the maku is an important cultural resource that features in Dreamtime stories and which some Anangu people identify strongly with.”

The arid landscape is a region that Ellen knows well, having worked there as a ranger coordinator for two years before returning to Adelaide this year.

She said that a plant and animal survey undertaken 25 years ago before the onset of buffel grass had provided an opportunity to make an important historical comparison.

“I’ll return to the area later this year to gather fresh data on the animals, plants and vegetation structure, which will allow me to make a comparison over time, and between invaded and uninvaded sites.”

Ellen said she sought to determine what types of animals were impacted by structural change and the loss of native plants.

“My focus will be on seed eaters; ants, native rodents, such as the spinifex hopping mouse, and some birds, which are important in the desert ecosystems of Central Australia.

“I will work with the Anangu Traditional Owners and Indigenous rangers to determine the impact this invasive grass is having on plants and animals,” she said.