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Rangeland ecology and management

The influence of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) on biodiversity in an arid Australian landscape

A. Smyth A , M. Friedel B D and C. O’Malley C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO Box 2111, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia.

C Threatened Species Network and WWF-Australia, PO Box 528, Sydney, NSW 2001, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

The Rangeland Journal 31(3) 307-320
Submitted: 10 June 2008  Accepted: 6 February 2009   Published: 28 August 2009


Buffel grass [Cenchrus ciliaris L. syn. Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link] is an exotic species that has been widely planted in Australian arid and semi-arid grazing lands, and has become an important resource for livestock. It establishes readily and has expanded into such a diversity of land types beyond grazing lands that it is also regarded as a serious environmental weed. Although there is an abundance of literature on the production benefits of buffel grass, there is relatively little about its influence on native flora and fauna in arid Australia, particularly when its cover levels are low.

This study attempted to clarify the influence of buffel grass and environmental patterns on the occurrence of ground vegetation, birds, reptiles and ants in a gneissic hill habitat in central Australia where buffel grass has encroached. Despite poor conditions for growth, we were able to distinguish the influence of buffel grass from that of other variables like overstorey cover, soil pH, fire and transect orientation. Cover of buffel grass did not exceed ~20% but it still accounted for a small amount of the variation in the composition of ground vegetation and birds, and of the ‘ground-dwelling’ bird guild and the ‘hot climate specialist’ functional group of ants. There were insufficient reptiles for analysis.

We conclude that, even when cover is low, buffel grass can have a detectable influence on some aspects of community dynamics. Given the evidence from published literature and from this study, we expect the influence of buffel grass on the diversity of native flora and fauna to increase, particularly if buffel grass expands into land types previously thought unsuited to its environmental needs.

Additional keywords: ants, birds, environmental variables, invasive plants.


Dave Albrecht, Alan Andersen, Joe Breen, Chris Brock, Jeff Cole, Kevin George, Melinda Hillery, Craig James, Mitch Jones, Simon Leadbeater, Jo Maloney, Linda McGuire, Ajay Narendra, Helen Puckey and Kim Webeck made valuable contributions to the project and we thank them all. We also acknowledge the funding and other support of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Threatened Species Network and the Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory. A permit (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service permit # 19559) was granted to set up pitfall traps; ethical clearance was provided by Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics Committee (Project Reference # A04038). The work reported in this publication is supported by funding from the Australian Government Cooperative Research Centres Programme through the Desert Knowledge CRC; the views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Desert Knowledge CRC or its participants.


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Appendix.  Code and name of ground plant taxa for ordination in Fig. 5
Note: sdlg, seedling
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