The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
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

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.


Albrecht D. , Pitts B. , Nano C. , and Harris M. (2004). Vegetation type profiles. In: ‘The Vegetation and Plant Species of the Alice Springs Municipality, Northern Territory’. (Eds D. Albrecht and B. Pitts.) pp. 82–182. (Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment: Alice Springs, NT.)

Albrecht D. E. , Duguid A. W. , and Coulson H. (1999). ‘Vascular Plant Checklist for the Southern Bioregions of the Northern Territory: Update Bulletin No. 1.’ (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory: Alice Springs, NT.)

Albrecht D. E. , Duguid A. W. , Latz P. K. , Coulson H. , and Barritt M. J. (1997). ‘Vascular Plant Checklist for the Southern Bioregions of the Northern Territory: Nomenclature, Distribution and Conservation Status.’ (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory: Alice Springs, NT.)

Andersen A. N. (2000). ‘The Ants of Northern Australia: a Guide to the Monsoonal Fauna.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Arriaga L. Castellanos V. A. E. Moreno E. Alarcón J. 2004 Potential ecological distribution of alien invasive species and risk assessment: a case study of buffel grass in arid regions of Mexico. Conservation Biology 18 1504 1514 doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00166.x

Barker R. D. , and Vestjens W. J. M. (1989a). ‘The Food of Australian Birds. Vol. 1: Non-passerines.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Barker R. D. , and Vestjens W. J. M. (1989b). ‘The Food of Australian Birds. Vol. 2: Passerines.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Best R. A. (1998). The effect of introduced buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L., Poaceae) on the diversity and abundance of invertebrates in semi-arid central Australia. Graduate Diploma Thesis, School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Northern Territory University, Darwin, NT, Australia.

Binks R. , Cann A. , Perks S. , Silla A. , and Young M. (2005). The effect of introduced buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) on terrestrial invertebrate communities in the Pilbara region, Western Australia. BSc (Honours) Thesis, School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia.

Bureau of Meteorology (2007). Climate statistics for Australian locations, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Government. Available at: (accessed 24 January 2007).

Christidis L. , and Boles W. (1994). ‘The taxonomy and species of birds of Australia and its territories. Monograph 2.’ (Royal Ornithological Union of Australia: Hawthorn East, Vic.)

Chudleigh P. , and Bramwell T. (Agtrans) (1996). Assessing the impact of introduced tropical pasture plants in northern Australia. Manuscript prepared for the CSIRO Task Force Interested in Introduced Pasture Plants, 11 March 1996.

Clarke P. J. Latz P. K. Albrecht D. E. 2005 Long-term changes in semi-arid vegetation: Invasion of an exotic perennial grass has larger effects than rainfall variability. Journal of Vegetation Science 16 237 248

Cox J. R. Martin-Rivera M. H. Ibarra-Flores F. A. Fourie J. H. Rethman N. F. G. Wilcox D. G. 1988 The influence of climate and soils on the distribution of four African grasses. Journal of Range Management 41 127 139

D’Antonio C. Vitousek P. M. 1992 Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass/fire cycle, and global change. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 23 63 87

Daehler C. C. Carino D. A. 1998 Recent replacement of native pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) by invasive African grasses in the Hawaiian Islands. Pacific Science 52 220 227

Eyre T. J. Wang J. Venz M. F. Chilcott C. Whish G. 2009 Buffel grass in Queensland’s semi-arid woodlands: response to local and landscape scale variables, and relationship with grass, forb and reptile species. The Rangeland Journal 31 293 305

Fairfax R. J. Fensham R. J. 2000 The effect of exotic pasture development on floristic diversity in central Queensland, Australia. Biological Conservation 94 11 21

Franks A. J. 2002 The ecological consequences of buffel grass Cenchrus ciliaris establishment within remnant vegetation of Queensland. Pacific Conservation Biology 8 99 107

Friedel M. , Puckey H. , O’Malley C. , Waycott M. , Smyth A. , and Miller G. (2006). ‘Buffel Grass: Both Friend and Foe. An Evaluation of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Buffel Grass Use and Recommendations for Future Research.’ (Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre: Alice Springs, NT.)

Friedel M. H. Pickup G. Nelson D. J. 1993 The interpretation of vegetation change in a spatially and temporally diverse arid Australian landscape. Journal of Arid Environments 24 241 260

Grice A. C. 2006 The impact of invasive plant species on the biodiversity of Australian rangelands. The Rangeland Journal 28 27 35 doi:10.1071/RJ06014

Hall T. J. (2000). History and development of buffel grass pasture lands in Queensland. In: ‘Proceedings of Buffel Grass Workshop’. (Ed. B. Cook.) pp. 2–12. (Queensland Department of Primary Industries: Brisbane.)

Higgins P. J. , Peter J. M. , and Steele W. K. (2000). ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 5: Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Humphreys L. R. 1967 Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in Australia. Tropical Grasslands 1 123 134

Humphries S. E. Groves R. H. Mitchell D. S. 1991 Plant invasions of Australian ecosystems: a status review and management directions. Kowari 2 1 134

Jackson J. 2005 Is there a relationship between herbaceous species richness and buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)? Austral Ecology 30 505 517

James C. D. 2004 Trapping intensities for sampling ants in Australia rangelands. Austral Ecology 29 78 86 doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2004.01351.x

Lawson B. E. Bryant M. J. Franks A. J. 2004 Assessing the potential distribution of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) in Australia using a climate-soil model. Plant Protection Quarterly 19 155 163

Lepš J. , and Šmilauer P. (2003). ‘Multivariate Analysis of Ecological Data Using CANOCO.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Low T. 1997 Tropical pasture plants as weeds. Tropical Grasslands 31 337 343

Ludwig J. A. Eager R. W. Liedloff A. C. McCosker J. C. Hannah D. Thurgate N. Y. Woinarski J. C. Z. Catterall C. P. 2000 Clearing and grazing impacts on vegetation patch structures and fauna counts in eucalypt woodland, Central Queensland. Pacific Conservation Biology 6 254 272

Majer J. D. Shattuck S. O. Andersen A. N. Beattie A. J. 2004 Australian ant research: fabulous fauna, functional groups, pharmaceuticals, and the Fatherhood. Australian Journal of Entomology 43 235 247

McIvor J. 1998 Pasture management in semi-arid tropical woodlands: effects on species diversity. Australian Journal of Ecology 23 349 364 doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.1998.tb00740.x

Morton S. R. (1982). Granivory in the Australian arid zone: diversity of harvester ants and structure of their communities. In: ‘Evolution of the Flora and Fauna of Arid Australia’. (Eds W. R. Barker and P. J. M. Greenslade.) pp. 257–262. (Peacock Publications: Adelaide.)

Morton S. R. Davies P. H. 1983 Food of the zebra finch (Poephila guttata), and an examination of granivory in birds of the Australian arid zone. Australian Journal of Ecology 8 235 243

Neave H. , Nano C. , Pavey C. , Moyses M. , Clifford B. , Cole J. , Harris M. , and Albrecht D. (2004). ‘A Resource Assessment Towards a Conservation Strategy for the Finke Bioregion, NT.’ (Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment: Darwin.)

Piggot J. P. (1995). The weed status of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) and its threat to nature conservation in Western Australia. Unpublished report, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Perth.

Recher H. F. Davis W. E. 1997 Foraging ecology of a mulga bird community. Wildlife Research 24 27 43

Reid J. Fleming M. 1992 The conservation status of birds in arid Australia. The Rangeland Journal 14 65 91 doi:10.1071/RJ9920065

Richardson D. M. Pyšek P. Rejmánek M. Barbour M. G. Panetta F. D. West C. J. 2000 Naturalisation and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Diversity & Distributions 6 93 107 doi:10.1046/j.1472-4642.2000.00083.x

Saunders D. A. , and Ingram J. A. (1995). ‘Birds of Southwestern Australia: an Atlas of Changes in the Distribution and Abundance of Wheatbelt Avifauna.’ (Surrey Beatty and Sons: Chipping Norton, NSW.)

Shattuck S. O. (1999). ‘Australian Ants: their Biology and Identification.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Stafford Smith M. Morton S. 1990 A framework for the ecology of arid Australia. Journal of Arid Environments 18 255 278

ter Braak C. J. F. , and Šmilauer P. (2002). ‘CANCO Reference Manual and CanoDraw for Windows user’s Guide, Version 4.5.’ (Microcomputer Power: Ithaca, NY.)

Whyte R. O. , Moir T. R. G. , and Cooper J. P. (1959). ‘Grasses in agriculture.’ FAO Agricultural Study No. 42. (FAO: Rome.)

Export Citation Cited By (34)