New Guinea savannas and grasslands

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Grasslands, towards the end of the dry season. The area is covered by water in the wet season, but by early November just a few small areas of water remained. Western Province, Papua New Guinea. December 2004.
© Brent Stirton/Getty Images / WWF-UK

Savannas, shaped by climate and humans

Strangely reminiscent of the landscapes of northern Australia, New Guinea’s savannas and grasslands are spread along the island’s southern coast.
Open savanna thrives in conditions that other ecosystems wouldn’t be able to withstand for very long. Here, there is no more than 2,600mm of rainfall a year. In the dry season, it gets worse. Precipitation drops to less than 100mm per month.

Two factors account for the unusually dry aspect of New Guinea’s savannas: the climate and humans. In this part of the island, people have been burning the land for thousands of years, mostly for hunting purposes.

There are 3 kinds of savannas:1
  • Eucalyptus savannas, which consist of mid-height grasses such as kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) and cogongrass (Imperata cylindrical).
  • Malaleuca savanna, which is flooded some parts of the year. Cajuputi (Melaleuca cajuputi), tea tree or paper bark (M. leucadendron) and niaouli (M. viridiflora) often dominate this kind of savanna. These species are tough, withstanding burning, inundation and periodic drought. The ground is layered with reeds (Phragmites species).
  • Mixed savanna combines elements of the first 2 types of savanna.

Animals that roam the New Guinea savanna

Forty-three mammal species, including 4 small marsupials, live in this ecosystem: the Papuan planigale (Planigale novaeguineae), bronze quoll (a marsupial “cat”, Dasyurus spartacus), chestnut dunnart (a small marsupial, Sminthopsis archeri), and dusky pademelon (a small, kangaroo-like animal, Thylogale brunii).

Several reptiles and amphibians found nowhere else in the world, including the Fly River turtle or pig-nose turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), have chosen this place as their home. Other local species include the threatened little paradise-kingfisher (Tanysiptera hydrocharis), the Fly River grassbird (Megalurus albolimbatus) and 2 species of munias.2

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1 Muller K. 2004. The Biodiversity in New Guinea. Unpublished document.
2 WWF. Terrestrial Ecoregions -- Trans Fly savanna and grasslands (AA0708). Accessed online 05/02/06.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
An Australian relative of the dusky pademelon. Here, red-necked pademelon (Thylogale thetis), common along forest edges in Australia.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

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