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The Pilbara Region Biological Survey was undertaken to gain greater knowledge about the biodiversity of the Pilbara region in Western Australia.

In this survey, our researchers have:

  • counted, sampled, and documented the plant and animal communities in the Pilbara region
  • investigated the inter-relationships, composition and patterns of these communities within the Pilbara region
  • documented the way communities are distributed in relation to soil, vegetation, climate, landforms and geology.

The knowledge gained will provide the regional context necessary to underpin future nature conservation planning and sustainable land-use for the Pilbara.

Why did we need a regional survey?

Little was known about the rich array of plants and animals in the Pilbara. Many of the native species were new to science, and not found anywhere else in the world. The ecosystems, and their ecological processes, were also not well understood. The survey provided information on patterns in the distribution of flora and fauna to help the community make decisions about conservation requirements and the sustainable use of natural resources.

The results of the survey will assist in:

  • developing a framework to guide sustainable land-use and conservation planning in the Pilbara
  • assessing the region’s system of national parks and other conservation reserves
  • improving the environmental impact assessment process for future developments
  • verifying where threatened species and ecological communities live
  • providing detailed information on stygofauna (small underground water creatures)
  • documenting new information about the plant and animal communities of the Pilbara.
See Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 78 for research papers from this survey by staff from Parks and Wildlife, the Western Australian Museum and other collaborating organisations.
View a list of Pilbara Threatened Fauna on NatureMap
pilbara conservation strategy

Pilbara Conservation Strategy

This strategy provides a framework and direction for landscape-scale conservation initiatives to protect and enhance the biodiversity of the Pilbara while realising its economic potential.

Read more about the Pilbara Conservation Strategy


  • The Pilbara region is large. It covers approximately 200,000 km² but is sparsely populated by humans.
  • The Pilbara is a unique, ancient landscape with variable climates and diverse geology.
  • The Pilbara coastline is the most cyclone-prone region of Australia, with an average of five tropical cyclones per year.
  • The region has many diverse habitat types. These include mangroves, grassland savannas, mountain ranges, gorges, wetlands and tropical woodlands.
  • The Pilbara is a biogeographic transition zone between the tropical north and semi-arid desert. This is a zone where the plants and animals of these two distinct climate types can be found.
  • The Pilbara has some of the richest and most unusual biodiversity on earth.

Over 800 sample sites were surveyed throughout the Pilbara. These sites represented a cross section of the region's soils, landforms and major geological formations, climate and vegetation types.
Sites were located on and within:

  • current and ex-pastoral leases
  • Aboriginal lands
  • unallocated crown land
  • mining tenements
  • national parks and conservation reserves.

The diversity of plant and animal life was recorded at each site. Most sites were sampled twice in different seasons of the year. A variety of methods have been used throughout the survey. These include pitfall traps for mammals, observation using night vision equipment and a radar gun for bats and plankton nets for stygofauna.The field component of the Pilbara Region Biological Survey was conducted over five years between 2002-2007. Due to the large amount of data collected during the survey, the sorting, identifying, analysing and subsequent interpreting of finding has taken another six years. The botanical component of the survey which is dealing with over 80,000 plant specimens is still ongoing.

Pilbara Region Biological Survey maps

There have been six major components in the Pilbara Region Biological Survey:


A large volume of data was collected during the Pilbara Region Biological Survey, which has taken a considerable time to sort, identify, analyse and interpret but for most groups this is now complete. Our results to date include:

  • discovery of several new cryptic gecko species, two prevalent pebble mimicking dragons and several species of sand-swimming skinks
  • collection of 13 species of frog across the arid region
  • identification of 132 non-oceanic species of birds present of survey sites
  • documentation of the geographic range, status and breeding season for 325 bird species as known to occur in the region
  • recording of more than 350 stygofauna species (groundwater fauna), of which more than 300 are newly discovered
  • the collection of more than 1,000 species of invertebrates that live in aquatic ecosystems
  • recording of more than
    • 600 species of ground-dwelling beetles
    • 245 species of ants
    • 375 species of ground-dwelling spiders
    • 22 species of scorpion
  • identification of 11 frog species and more than 140 reptile species
  • recording of 19 small ground-dwelling mammals
  • documentation from recent fossil deposits of a mammal fauna that was compromised of up to thirty six native species.
  • recording of 23 species of bats
  • the collection of more than 80,000 plant vouchers representing about 1,100 species, of which at least 8 are new to science and 25 new to the Pilbara
  • documentation of 103 weeds in the Pilbara of which up to 29 are significant habitat modifying species.

Where to next?

Now that surveying is almost completed, the challenge is to collate and analyse the enormous amount of information that has been gathered over the past years. Once this has been done, we aim to present the information and raw data via NatureMap in formats that can be accessed and used by anyone with responsibilities for or an interest in land management in the Pilbara.
The information and specimens collected through the survey will provide researchers at Parks and Wildlife, the Western Australian Museum and other institutions with material to further their investigations for many years to come.


Overview

  • Project commencement: 2002
  • Project field sampling completed: 2007
  • Project write-up  and publication completed: 2014
  • Total project investment: $1.5M from Commonwealth Government via Natural Heritage Trust funding, $12.4M from WA Government, $250,000 from Pilbara resource industries

Key outcomes

  • Greater understanding of Pilbara flora and fauna, how that biodiversity is distributed across the region and how climate, geology and soil influence the distribution of species.
  • Discovery of new flora and fauna species.
  • Better understanding of the comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness of the Pilbara reserve system.

Partnerships

The Pilbara Region Biological Survey was made possible through assistance from:

A number of external collaborators, staff from the Western Australian Museum and volunteers also assisted with the Pilbara Region Biological Survey. In total more than 130 people have been involved in the survey.

Websites and databases

Previous Pilbara Biodiversity Audits


Contact details

For further information please contact
Dr Stephen van Leeuwen