ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

The impact of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) on fire regimes and biodiversity in Australia’s western deserts (2018-2019)


Holsworth Research Endowment in partnership with the Ecological Society of Australia, $6750


Leanne Greenwood (PhD student), Associate Professor Dale Nimmo, Professor Rebecca Bliege Bird Pennsylvania State University), Dr Anja Skroblin (University of Melbourne) and Dr Jodi Price

Research Theme

Biodiversity conservation


Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is among the most widespread non-native plants in arid Australia and has been identified amongst Australia’s 18 worst weeds. Once established, buffel grass forms dense swards that can transform the structure, composition and function of ecosystems. In recent decades, buffel grass has begun to spread across the Martu’s 13 million hectare Native Title Determination, in Australia’s western deserts. Martu still use fire to hunt and gather, deriving approximately 25 – 50% of their diet from bush foods.

Photo A/Prof Dale Nimmo, Leanne Greenwood and Professor Rebecca Bliege Bird setting camera traps in the Western Desert

Fire is a key management tool, not only used to locate goanna burrows (their primary staple), but also to create a mix of fine-scale mosaic of successional stages that ensures the long-term provision of food plants and supports a range of native species. The most significant threat buffel grass poses to ecosystems is alteration of fire regimes, causing more frequent and intense fires. If buffel grass has the potential to change the fire regimes in these ecosystems, then buffel grass not only threatens the species it directly displaces, but also the continuation of ancient management practices and the species dependent on them.

This project aims to:

  • Identify the drivers of buffel grass spread and determine its future distribution across Martu homelands using a hybrid-modelling framework
  • Examine the impacts of buffel grass on a) fire regimes and b) biodiversity, with a particular focus on Martu food plants and animals
  • Predict future changes to fire regimes and biodiversity under alternative buffel grass management scenarios


There is potential to deploy Indigenous rangers to undertake ambitious, broad-scale buffel grass control programmes within the Martu estate. This project aims to provide a demonstration of current and future impact sufficient to garner the resources required to halt its spread and to provide insight into where management (both control and prevention) can be most effective.


Associate Professor Dale Nimmo Email

CSU Albury-Wodonga campus

Leanne Greenwood

PhD student – Distance Email

June 2018