Some Like it Hot: Celebrating 20 years of Simpson Desert research

20 August 2010

Plant seed in one of the Simpson Desert sand dunes. Image taken by RICHARD O'BRIEN, volunteer on desert trip in June 2006.
Plant seed in one of the Simpson Desert sand dunes. Image taken by RICHARD O'BRIEN, volunteer on desert trip in June 2006.

An exhibition, which celebrates an extraordinary ecological study of the Australian desert spanning two decades, has been launched at the University of Sydney.

'Some Like it Hot: Celebrating 20 years of Simpson Desert research', which opened on 12 August, is a stunning display of photographs, movies and objects showcasing a unique ecological study in one of Australia's harshest environments and the incredible contribution made by hundreds of volunteers in the project's 20-year history.

Created by the School of Biological Sciences in conjunction with the Iconic Landscapes Project, the exhibition can be visited for free at the SciTech Library.

The exhibition gives visitors a snapshot of life, fieldwork and the great diversity of plants and animals in the Simpson Desert, which is the location of the two-decade ecological study pioneered by renowned ecologist and mammalogist, Professor Chris Dickman.

Since 1990, Professor Dickman, director of the Desert Ecology Research Group, has been traveling to the Simpson Desert to research the patterns, distributions and abundances of small mammals and reptiles in the area. Field trips are made three to four times a year and involve the participation of professors, students and volunteers. To date, over 500 volunteers have been out on roughly 150 trips and many have returned again and again.

For the study's 20th anniversary, the exhibition celebrates the science and humanity of the Simpson Desert research project. Visitors can see the epic 2000km journey starting at the University of Sydney and ending in the red dunes of the field site, learn how researchers trap and mark animals, experience a day in the life of a desert ecologist, and discover the little luxuries - like a box of Tiny Teddies - that makes life a little more comfortable in one of the remotest places in Australia.

The exhibition launch coincided with a public talk presented by Professor Dickman in the evening of 12 August. In the talk, which can be viewed from the Sydney Science Forum website, Professor Dickman revealed results gained from the 20-year study of the Simpson Desert, in particular the many 'boom' and 'bust' cycles that have occured in the desert during the study period.

Through the exhibition and public talk, Professor Dickman hopes to foster an appreciation of Australia's unique wildlife - and the difficulties they face - as well as an understanding of the important part played by ecological research.

Professor Dickman says: "Advances in ecological understanding are crucial for protecting, restoring the arid biome of Australia, which is experiencing pressure from changed land management regimes and uncertainty with respect to climate change in the future. But conservation cannot happen in isolation.

"Scientists need to work with local communities and other organisations like national parks and charities in order to succeed in protecting the environment."

The Simpson Desert research project demonstrates how collaborations can result in extraordinary conservation outcomes. In 2003, the conservation charity body Bush Heritage Australia purchased 450 000 hectares of cattle station land in the Simpson Desert to form one of the world's largest arid zone conservation reserves. Bush Heritage Australia based their decision to purchase both Ethabuka and Craven Peak cattle stations primarily on the conservation research outcomes of Chris Dickman's long-term study.

The exceptional conservation results of the Simpson Desert research project has been the focus of a new book, edited by Professor Dickman, Libby Robin and Mandy Martin. The book, Desert Channels, explores the impulse to protect the varied biodiversity of the South-West Queensland region, with an emphasis on partnerships that conserve landscapes and communities together.

Some Like it Hot: Celebrating 20 years of Simpson Desert research is open in the SciTech Library until 3 December 2010.

Location: SciTech Library, Level 1, Jane Foss Russell Building G02, 160 City Road, University of Sydney.
Cost: FREE
Contact: Carla Avolio
Phone: (02) 9351 4543

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 28040249161e546a09081b096b404f28021f13691034051d0703