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Pre-European fire regimes in Australian ecosystems

Enright, N.J.ORCID: 0000-0003-2979-4505 and Thomas, I. (2008) Pre-European fire regimes in Australian ecosystems. Geography Compass, 2 (4). pp. 979-1011.

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We use multiple lines of evidence, including palaeo-environmental, ecological, historical, anthropological and archaeological, to investigate pre-European fire regimes in Australia, with particular focus on the extent to which the use of fire by Aboriginal peoples since their colonisation of the continent at least 45,000 years ago has impacted on the Australian biota. The relative roles of people and climate (including past climate change) as agents driving fire regime are assessed for the major climate–vegetation regions of the continent. Both historical accounts and evidence from current land-use practices in some areas support the argument that Aboriginal peoples used fire as a land management tool. Evidence for pre-European fire regimes suggests that while large areas of savanna woodlands in northern Australia, and dry forests and woodlands in temperate southern Australia, were subjected to increased fire under Aboriginal land management; others were not. Areas where fire regime was controlled primarily by ‘natural’ climate-fuel relationships probably included those that were difficult to burn because they were too wet (e.g. rainforests), fuel levels were usually too low (e.g. desert and semi-arid rangelands), or resource availability was low and did not support other than transient human occupation (e.g. some shrublands). Scientific studies suggest that many fire-sensitive woody species would decline under more frequent burning, so that the use of a small patch size, frequent fire regime – such as may have existed over large parts of Australia in the pre-European (Aboriginal occupation) period – may have harmful biodiversity conservation outcomes if instituted without careful consideration of individual ecosystem and species requirements.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Copyright: © 2008 The Authors
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