"Mallee" is an Aboriginal term and refers to any short tree with a large underground stem fused with the main root, called a lignotuber. All eucalyptus trees with this growth pattern are referred to as mallees. So, too, is any plant cover that is dominated by mallee trees and shrubs. Mallee vegetation is widespread in Western Australia because these plants can survive in areas with low rainfall and poor soils. The Esperance Mallee ecoregion is an extensive shrubland dominated by mallee.
Lignotubers are just like normal tree stems except that they have much more starch storage space and contain concealed dormant buds. Fires are a key component of mallee habitat and the dormant buds enable the trees to quickly produce new stems after fires.
Kangaroo paw is a striking wildflower found in mallee habitat that has velvety, tubular flowers that resemble kangaroo paws. Honey possums feed on the nectar from these flowers. Another marsupial, the fierce western quoll, hunts for small mammals, insects, and birds. Once found throughout Western and central Australia, the western quoll’s range has decreased dramatically since European settlement. The endangered western whipbird also lives in mallee habitat, although there are estimated to be only 500 of these endemic birds left. Bright green ground parrots emerge at dusk to search for food. These birds are one of only three species of ground parrots in the world. They will fly briefly when alarmed, but then quickly return to the ground. Other birds restricted to the southwestern tip of Australia include the red-winged fairywren, the sacred ibis, and the white-tailed black cockatoo. The rare Cape Barren goose can be found along the coastline. These large geese mate for life and are extremely aggressive, attacking anything that threatens their young.
Cause for Concern
The main land uses in this ecoregion are farming and livestock grazing. Over-irrigation, increased development, and habitat fragmentation are all serious threats. The western whipbird has declined due to the burning and destruction of mallee habitat. Most mallee habitat is privately owned and is quickly being degraded. Introduced and feral animals, such as foxes, prey on native animals and destroy native vegetation.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001