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Research is a crucial in protecting our threatened species. Alice Springs Desert Park is currently involved in a variety of projects focusing on:

  • conservation breeding and reintroducing threatened species
  • animal health, husbandry and wellbeing
  • biodiversity
  • community conservation.

Our research will ensure we continue to improve the success of our threatened species programs and encourage visitors to protect our environment.

Millennium Seed Bank Project

In 2017 Desert Park nursery embarked on a germination study to determine viability and long-term storage of seed collected within the Millennium Seed Bank Project. The park nursery staff are also looking at methods of overcoming long-term dormancy in species identified as being difficult to germinate.

The overall aims of this project are to survey the viability and germination behaviour of seed collected for the seed bank, while assessing the long term storage potential.

The Millennium Seed Bank Project was a nine year global conservation program (2001 to 2010), conceived, developed and managed by the Seed Conservation Department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The two principal aims of the program were to:

  • Collect and conserve 10% of the worlds seed-bearing flora (some 24,000 species), principally from the drylands, by the year 2010.
  • Develop bilateral research, training and capacity-building relationships worldwide in order to support and to advance the seed conservation effort.

The Northern Territory Government entered into a partnership with the seed bank in November 2004 to provide for more effective conservation of the Territory’s native plant diversity. Plant species which were targeted for collection were those from arid and semi-arid regions which are either endemic; rare, threatened or poorly known; poorly reserved; restricted to habitats where the threat of weed invasion and other forms of degradation are greatest; and which have potential rehabilitation value.

The main aims of the partnership was to create ex-situ conservation of Northern Territory plant genetic diversity to compliment current integrated plant conservation efforts, primarily as a safe guard against extinction if species were, for any number of reasons, to disappear from the wild. Also for research on aspects of seed testing and germination; differing seed dormancy mechanisms and the identification of effective methods for overcoming these; seed soil bank studies including issues of seed longevity; and seed storage research. The resultant increase in the detailed species, population and community level knowledge will aid greatly in the future management and conservation of many of the special ecosystems of the Northern Territory.

Tomato selection trials

Solanum centrale which is also known as the desert raisin or bush tomato is a small shrub which grows to 30cm high and spreads by suckering underground to cover large areas. The plant has purple star shaped flowers with bright yellow stamens, the leaves are covered in fine rusty coloured hairs and the fruit is a green berry which matures and dries to a brown raisin.

The fruit is edible and a highly prized food for Aboriginal people. They have high nutritional value. There have been attempts to introduce the fruit to mainstream markets with varied success. Both scientists and food distributors have identified the species as an ideal candidate for the introduction to domestic markets.

The Desert Park has been assisting the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (DK-CRC) Remote Economic Participation Unit, Ninti One, with the development of solanum centrale for commercial production since 2003. Initially with horticultural support of a broad acre trial carried out at the Arid Zone Research Institute and more recently with selection trials from seed and cuttings carried out at the Desert Park nursery.

Alice Springs Desert Park is the best suited facility to propagate the plants due to its location, sterile nursery conditions and its ability to document the records required for the project. The trials are now complete and the Desert Park is holding and growing selected specimens should further trials be required.

Buffel grass

Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliarus) is a perennial grass native to Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. It has been widely planted in the rangelands of northern Australia and elsewhere in the world to improve pasture production and stabilise soil. In Australia it has now spread well beyond areas in which it was originally planted, and presently covers extensive areas of arid and semi-arid Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. The grass is highly persistent once established because it is resistant to fire, drought and grazing and has been identified as a major environmental weed of northern Australia. In Central Australia the grass has spread widely and is prolific in run-on areas, particularly alluvial flats and creek-lines where it can form a dense monoculture.

Negative effects of buffel grass on native plant species abundance and diversity have been reported in a number of studies. Although the effects of buffel grass on native plant communities are becoming better established there is still very little known about the effects on native fauna.

The study, which is carried out at two survey sites at the Alice Springs Desert Park and three survey sites at Simpsons Gap National Park aims to determine the effect of slashing and follow up poison of buffel grass in small areas on the native lizard fauna and to evaluate this method of control in terms of effort invested and possible biodiversity gains.

Zoology projects

In 2005 Alice Springs Desert Park bred cinnamon quail-thrush for the first time, something that had never before been done in captivity. Twenty five chicks of this species have now been produced over the park’s history. A few animals have made the journey to zoos in Sydney and Melbourne to help educate hundreds of thousands of visitors about the wildlife of Central Australia.

In August 2011 Alice Springs Desert Park became the first institution ever to breed dusky grasswrens. This species lives exclusively in the arid zone of Australia, and is similar to a large fairy-wren, living in family groups. The original pair of birds followed up their first round of chicks with another two successful clutches in the same season; a fantastic accomplishment for any species.

Alice Springs Desert Park has pioneered the husbandry of a number of arid zone bird species never before kept in zoos. Many of these species have not been extensively studied by science; biological information such as egg incubation time, fledging period and division of parental duties has been recorded for the first time by Desert Park staff for several species such as redthroat and grey-headed honeyeater.

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