Fire ecology and the conservation of biodiversity

Fire is an important ecological process around the world because it can significantly alter ecosystems.  Consequently, inappropriate fire regimes are a major threatening process.  In many ecosystems fire is actively managed to protect human life and property and is increasingly being used to help promote habitat for flora and fauna.   However, the effects of fire on many organisms is poorly known.  This project aims to understand how temporal patterns of fire (fire history) affect bird communities and how spatial patterns of post-fire aged vegetation (fire mosaics, which are created by both individual fires and sequences of fires) influence the composition of avifauna in landscapes.

This research is being conducted in mallee eucalypt shrublands of south-eastern Australia.   This ecosystem contains extensive areas of flammable vegetation which experiences regular wildfires and has diverse biota, including several species which are considered threatened by inappropriate fire regimes.  The results of this study are helping to improve knowledge of how fire affects animal communities and is helping land managers to develop fire management strategies that benefit the conservation of biota.


Land use change and ecosystem conservation

Changes to the way that land is used by humans (land use change) is a major threat to global biodiversity because it can alter entire ecosystems.  Even in nations where land clearing has declined in recent decades, the amount and rate of land-use change has continued to increase.  While many studies have demonstrated substantial effects of land use change on biota, much of this research has focussed on one-time changes between very different land uses (e.g. converting forests to croplands).   However, subtle differences in land-use (e.g. crop types, rotation frequency, grazing regimes) can also favour dramatically different subsets of the community.   Moreover, examinations of spatial variation in land uses often treat landscapes as static assemblages of landscape elements (i.e. based on the current extent, configuration and composition of the landscape), rather than considering changes in spatial relationships over time.  A key challenge for ecologists and conservation managers is to understand the relationship between the complex properties of land use change and the processes by which ecosystems are affected.  By understanding this interaction, we may be able to better predict how future land use changes will affect ecological communities.

We are using the agriculturally dominated landscapes along the Murray River in the south-eastern Australia to study the effects of land use change on organisms. The landscapes in this study area support a variety of land-uses and vary in the amount of changes they have experienced.  Agricultural landscapes cover a large proportion of the worlds land surface area and regular changes in land-use are common in many of these environments.  Globally, this project aims to provide information to improve management and policy for human modified systems, while locally providing detailed information of how current and future land use change may affect biological communities in the region, particularly the threatened Eastern Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus monarchoides).