Researchers seek bushfire balancing act

October 17, 2017

Bushfire balance: Researchers study impact of controlled burns

Faced with above-average bushfire threat to the South West this summer, Murdoch University researchers are investigating how best to combine the protection of our biodiversity with reducing fire hazard.

Environmental scientist Dr Joe Fontaine warned there was an urgent need for a whole-of-community approach to give homeowners, landowners and businesses a wide range of strategies to protect themselves.

Dr Fontaine and his colleagues have launched a five-year study of controlled burns in sites around Perth to measure how native plants survive and thrive after bushfire. The researchers will survey how factors like fire season, weed invasion, rainfall decline and temperature increase linked to climate change affect the regeneration and growth of native plant species.

“Fire management in Australia is a delicate balancing act for land managers,” he said.

“They must weigh potential benefits from prescribed burns – which aim to reduce risk to human life and property – against the potential for undesirable impacts on biodiversity.

“This is a major issue in places like WA’s iconic banksia woodlands where subdivisions jut up against our world class biodiversity.

“However, we lack fundamental evidence to help support land managers make informed decisions.”

Dr Fontaine said the research will result in management guidance to minimise risk and optimise the resilience of Perth’s woodland ecosystems.

“We need to understand at what point post fire native species will persist and recover fully, taking into account all the other difficulties they face for survival.

“This sort of all-encompassing study has never been done before and it is hugely important to understand clearly these interactions if we want to maintain our unique biodiversity in WA while minimising the risk of fire to lives, homes and businesses.”

Research has already identified that some species, including banksias, need 50 per cent longer between fires to maintain stable populations because of WA’s drying climate.

The techniques and guidelines developed will be directly transferrable to other temperate Australian cities as well as internationally.

The research is funded by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage program, plus funding and support from industry partner the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions.

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