Sminthopsis psammophila 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Dasyuromorphia Dasyuridae

Scientific Name: Sminthopsis psammophila Spencer, 1895
Common Name(s):
English Sandhill Dunnart, Large Desert Marsupial-mouse, Sandhill Sminthopsis
French Souris marsupiale du désert
Spanish Ratón Marsupial Desértico
Antechinomys psammophila (Spencer, 1895)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable B2ab(ii,iii,v); D2 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-03-17
Assessor(s): Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.
Reviewer(s): Hawkins, C.
Contributor(s): Copley, P., McLean, A., Moseby, K., Read, J. & Ward, M.

The range of the Sandhill Dunnart has declined greatly in the past and it continues to decline. In recent times it has been located in three widely separated areas, two in the Great Victoria Desert and one on Eyre Peninsula. The calculated area of occupancy (AOO) is <500 km2 (which meets criteria for Endangered), however, because of the large, remote area between known localities, and the necessarily low survey effort in this region, we assume a larger AOO but <2,000 km2. The species occurs at <10 locations, and there is an inferred decline in area of occupancy, area, extent and quality of habitat, and number of mature individuals. Long-term occupancy is not assured even at sites where it has been previously detected.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Sandhill Dunnart was first collected near Lake Amadeus in the Northern Territory in 1896, but has not been recorded in the Northern Territory since. There was a gap of 75 years before the next records, which came from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia (Aitken 1971). Later it was discovered in Western Australia (Hart and Kitchener 1986; Pearson and Robinson 1989). Since then it has been recorded in a small number of widely-separated localities in the Great Victoria Desert in South Australia and Western Australia as well as on Eyre Peninsula. Churchill (2001) provides a list of known records to 2001. Surveys between 2008 and 2012 across the Great Victorian Desert (including Yellabinna Regional Reserve and widespread locations across Maralinga Tjarutja Lands) suggest that in the Great Victoria Desert Sandhill Dunnarts are now restricted to the mallee spinifex of Yellabinna Regional Reserve, in particular the north west portion of this reserve. Up until 2012 this area probably represented the stronghold for the species across Australia. However, recent wildfires (2012) burnt a large proportion of the known range in Yellabinna Regional Reserve. Whilst populations may recover over time, this will be dependent on appropriate recovery conditions.

Recent survey work has recorded the species in the following areas of the Eyre Peninsula: Hambidge Conservation Park, Ironstone Hill Conservation Park, Secret Rocks, Munyaroo Conservation Park and Pinkawillinie Conservation Park. However, capture rates are generally low and dependent on the fire age of vegetation.

Countries occurrence:
Australia (South Australia, Western Australia)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:500-1900Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:151635
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):NoExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:5Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


There is no robust estimate of population size. When subpopulations have been located, local abundance can vary highly between years. Early analysis of the subpopulation in north-west of Yellabinna Regional Reserve has indicated that abundance is not solely related to spinifex height or cover, however these factors are likely to be important in combination with habitat productivity. Repeated trapping in South Australia has demonstrated resident populations in the Great Victoria Desert and areas of Eyre Peninsula. Trapping in one location in Yellabinna has retrapped two female dunnarts both within 200 m of the original location, one after one year and one after two years (Ward 2008). Subadults are routinely captured on the Eyre Peninsula during summer but adult captures are extremely variable.

Captive colonies are held by Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, Victoria, and Alice Springs Desert Park, Northern Territory (Ford and Hogg 2012).

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:5000-10000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

With males weighing 26-55 g (mean 36 g) and females 25-42 g (33 g), the Sandhill Dunnart is the second largest member of the genus Sminthopsis and marginally lies within the ‘critical weight range’ (Burbidge and McKenzie 1989); terrestrial mammals within that range have an elevated likelihood of extinction or significant decline, especially in arid areas.

Sandhill Dunnarts occupy sandy semi-arid and arid parts of southern and central Australia, often with sand dunes, where the vegetation is dominated by spinifex Triodia spp. hummock grassland. A study on Eyre Peninsula found Sandhill Dunnarts commonly nested in large spinifex hummocks that had started to die off in the centre. They entered these spinifex hummocks by leaping up onto the hummock and climbing over the needles to the centre before scrambling down through the central portion of dead leaves. In the centre of the hummock they built a circular depression or space within the dead spinifex needles. Adult female dunnarts occasionally dug burrows; starting from inside the spinifex the burrows spiral down under the plant. These burrows were up to 90 cm long and had a small terminal chamber that contained nesting material of leaves and shredded bark. Male Sandhill Dunnarts were found to use a greater variety of nest sites than females, including small burrows between spinifex clumps, hollow logs, and Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse Notomys mitchellii burrows (Churchill 2001). In the Great Victoria Desert, both sexes tend to build burrows, from 30 cm to 1 m long, under spinifex hummocks (Pearson and Churchill 2008). Sandhill Dunnarts have relatively large home ranges of up to 7.5 ha. They can move rapidly over long distances, with individuals being recorded moving up to 1,960 m in two hours (Pearson and Churchill 2008).

In Yellabinna Regional Reserve, monitoring between 2008 and 2012 demonstrated a tenuous relationship between spinifex height (but not cover, size or continuity) in an area of dunes where capture rates are seemingly higher than elsewhere in Yellabinna (with sparser parallel dunes) (Ward 2008). However, spinifex height has been comparable at other locations where capture rates are lower and in areas where no Sandhill Dunnarts were found in surveys. The area of jumbled dunes may coincide with appropriate topography or underlying hydrology that allows for greater productivity and food abundance (M. Ward pers. comm. 2014). Alternatively, the large area of continuous habitat and relatively thick spinifex cover may allow Sandhill Dunnarts to more effectively evade introduced predators.

Diet consists of a wide variety of small to medium-sized invertebrates, mainly ants, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, wasps and centipedes (Pearson and Churchill 2008).

The species’ shelter behaviour, inside spinifex hummocks or in burrows, would limit predation by feral cats and red foxes; however, they would be prone to predation while foraging. Extensive, hot, summer fires, which are now common in the central spinifex deserts, are a significant threat as they destroy habitat over very large areas, limiting reinvasion as the vegetation recovers. Frequent fire is also a threat, as Sandhill Dunnarts require old spinifex hummocks in which to shelter. Future threats could include the spread of invasive Buffel Grass Cenchrus ciliaris which has replaced many grasslands further north and has recently invaded the Sandhill Dunnart’s range.

Sandhill Dunnarts appear to have a seasonal but extended breeding period and are able to reproduce from late winter to autumn (Lambert et al. 2011; A. McLean pers. comm. 2014). At the Middleback Range, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, the breeding season commenced with mating in August, females with up to eight pouch young were observed in September/October and juveniles were observed dispersing in January (McLean et al. 2012).


Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):1-2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Major threats are predation by feral cats and Red Foxes, and inappropriate fire regimes (more extensive and frequent). A minor threat is habitat loss and fragmentation, but this occurs within only a small part of the range.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed on Appendix I of CITES.

Parts of the range of the Sandhill Dunnart are reserved as national park, nature reserve or equivalent; however, threatening processes operate similarly within non-reserved and reserved areas. In Yellabinna Regional Reserve in the Great Victoria Desert, prescribed burning on the perimeter of the primary habitat has been implemented in order to provide protection from large uncontrolled wildfire. Unfortunately, this proved insufficient. On the Eyre Peninsula, Red Fox and feral Cat control, Goat and European Rabbit control and fire management are being implemented across 500 km2 of suitable habitat where Sandhill Dunnarts are regularly recorded (Middleback Alliance (Ecological Horizons 2012), K. Moseby and J. Read pers. comm. 2014). Fire management of other reserves, especially Pinkawillinie Conservation Park, is also designed to promote patchy regeneration of Triodia and prevent broad-scale wildfires in order to safeguard Sandhill Dunnart subpopulations.

Citation: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Sminthopsis psammophila. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T20293A21947794. . Downloaded on 21 September 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided