The potential use of existing radiometric data sets, previously collected for prospecting purposes, has very rarely been used as a variable predictor in wildlife habitat modelling. The utility of radiometric data for predicting vegetation community patterns and wildlife habitat was investigated in the Australian arid zone using the Burt Plain bioregion as a case study. Using spatial datasets and a Species Distribution Modelling Toolkit, arid zone vertebrate species were modelled with Generalised Linear Modelling (GLM) regression modelling techniques. These models were used to predict the probability of occurrence of a species at any given location, defined in terms of its environmental attributes. A statistical correlation between the radioactive elements uranium, thorium and potassium, and terrain aspect was found. No statistical correlations were established between the radioactive elements and vegetation patterns; although we suspect these exist at finer scales of mapping. Radiometric data were identified as explanatory variables in the habitat models of all of the 32 vertebrate species examined, and used as illustration in the development of probabilistic spatial predictions of three species (Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus; Lesser Hairy-footed Dunnart, Sminthopsis youngsoni; and Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the bioregion. Our analyses suggest that radiometric data sets involving the radioactive elements: (uranium, thorium, and potassium), and vegetation could be used as predictors of biodiversity patterns at the bioregional and landscape level. This is an important finding given the challenges posed in undertaking broad-scale biological surveys in the arid zone of Australia.
airborne geophysics, gamma-ray, radiometric datasets, distribution modelling, habitat management, Central Australia, arid zone