Indigenous fire practice protecting the Gibson Desert's biodiversity

October 10, 2018

Traditional Indigenous burning practices are protecting plant biodiversity in Australia's Gibson Desert, according to University of Queensland research.

The study analysed how environments dominated by flammable spinifex grasses and fire-sensitive desert myrtle shrubs reacted to wildfires, and to the low-intensity burning practices of the Pintupi people.

UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences researcher Dr Boyd Wright was originally doing field work for a book about edible and medicinal plants used by Indigenous people of Kiwirrkurra, on the eastern edge of the Gibson Desert.

"While on these field trips I realised that the spinifex and desert myrtle environments resembled what we in the ecology community call alternative stable state systems," Dr Wright said.

"Alternative stable state theory suggests that ecosystems can exist under multiple 'states', and that state shifting - where one state transitions to another - is usually driven by a disturbance, or frequent disturbances."

Dr Wright said when such shifts happen, the entire composition of an ecological community can change.

"Rainforests can transform into savannas or shrublands into grasslands, but to my knowledge there were no confirmed examples of alternative stable state systems in arid zones," he said.

"My research suggests that these systems do exist in the Gibson Desert, and that Indigenous fire practices are holding back some of these transformations, retaining critical species."

The Pintupi people have traditionally used low-intensity fires for hunting and land management, most recently to hunt for feral cats by opening up country and improving tracking efficiency.

"Repeated high-intensity summer wildfires have the capacity to burn into the areas where the desert myrtle shrubs grow, completely wiping them out," Dr Wright said.

"But the low-intensity traditional burning of the Pintupi makes it less likely that fires from the spinifex grasslands will penetrate into the shrublands, protecting these landscapes.

"The traditional burning practice of the Pintupi is not only saving the bilby from feral cats, but is also helping to conserve Australia's unique flora."
-end-
The study is published in Oecologia (DOI: 10.1007/s00442-018-4215-2).

University of Queensland

Related Wildfires Articles from Brightsurf:

Wildfires can cause dangerous debris flows
Wildfires don't stop being dangerous after the flames go out.

The effects of wildfires and spruce beetle outbreaks on forest temperatures
Results from a study published in the Journal of Biogeography indicate that wildfires may play a role in accelerating climate-driven species changes in mountain forests by compounding regional warming trends.

Without the North American monsoon, reining in wildfires gets harder
New research shows that while winter rains can temper the beginning of the wildfire season, monsoon rains are what shut them down.

Wildfires cause bird songs to change
A new study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances suggests that wildfires change the types of songs sung by birds living in nearby forests.

Recent Australian wildfires made worse by logging
Logging of native forests increases the risk and severity of fire and likely had a profound effect on the recent, catastrophic Australian bushfires, according to new research.

Study synthesizes what climate change means for Northwest wildfires
A synthesis study looks at how climate change will affect the risk of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana.

Climate change increases the risk of wildfires confirms new review
Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, increasing their likelihood -- according to a review of research on global climate change and wildfire risk published today.

Fire blankets can protect buildings from wildfires
Wrapping a building in a fire-protective blanket is a viable way of protecting it against wildfires, finds the first study to scientifically assess this method of defense.

Stanford researchers have developed a gel-like fluid to prevent wildfires
Scientists and engineers worked with state and local agencies to develop and test a long-lasting, environmentally benign fire-retarding material.

UCI team uses machine learning to help tell which wildfires will burn out of control
An interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of California, Irvine has developed a new technique for predicting the final size of a wildfire from the moment of ignition.

Read More: Wildfires News and Wildfires Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.