The Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project

QAECO researchers Luke Kelly and Mick McCarthy, alongside Kate Giljohann and a number of other collaborators, have recently started up a new fire ecology project! Read more about it below:

Now that we’ve assembled our exciting team – including new recruits Dr Kate Giljohann (Research Fellow), Fred Rainsford (PhD student) and Kate Senior (PhD student) – it’s a perfect time to introduce the project.

The Team: Luke Kelly (UoM), Andrew Bennett (La Trobe/ARI), Andrew Blackett (DELWP), Michael Clarke (La Trobe), Kate Giljohann (UoM/La Trobe), Michael McCarthy (UoM), Fred Rainsford (La Trobe), Kate Senior (UoM).

What are we going to do?

The Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project is a collaboration between The University of Melbourne, La Trobe University and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. It’s funded by the ARC Linkage Projects scheme. The primary aim of this project is to develop a suite of spatially explicit models and tools that will enhance our capacity to design fire management strategies for biodiversity in real-world landscapes.

This project will use two ecosystems from south-eastern Australia as case studies: ‘mallee’ woodlands and shrublands and ‘foothill’ forests. These extensive eucalypt-dominated ecosystems make up ≈104 000 km2 and ≈75 000 km2 of south-eastern Australia, respectively. Fire is a major driver of the structure and function of mallee and foothills ecosystems and the strong history of fire research in each region provides a wealth of data on the plants, birds, reptiles and mammals.

foothill-landscape

Foothill forests are characterised by rough-barked eucalypts, including messmate, brown stringybark, narrow- and broad-leaved peppermint. 

Specifically, we will build spatially explicit models of bird, mammal, plant and reptile responses to fire regimes in mallee and foothills landscapes. We’ll predict how biodiversity will change under different scenarios of prescribed burning and wildfire, while taking into account uncertainty relating to climate and other factors. This will involve linking ecological models, biodiversity indices, fire simulations and decision tools for better fire management.

The approach we develop, and the predictive models and decision tools, will enable land managers to link spatial fire data with distributional knowledge of plant and animal species to answer questions such as “what will the immediate effects on biodiversity be if a 100,000 ha bushfire occurs in a National Park?” and “how much and where should planned burning be done to maximise biodiversity in flammable landscapes?”.

Some of our recent work on linking species distribution models, biodiversity indices and decision-making tools provides the basis for this approach (McCarthy et al. 2014; Giljohann et al. 2015; Kelly et al. 2015). In collaboration with DELWP, we will extend this approach so that it can be applied to complex, real-world landscapes.

mallee-recent

A post-fire landscape in mallee woodlands and shrublands, northern Victoria.

How can you get involved?

In 2017, we’ll be on the lookout for volunteers to help us with new field studies of birds, mammals and plants in these fire-prone ecosystems.

In 2017 and 2018, we’ll be running workshops with land managers to develop and model scenarios of how planned and unplanned fires influence plants and animals.

For more information contact Luke Kelly at ltkelly[at]unimelb.edu.au

 Some of our recent papers on fire and biodiversity indices

Giljohann, KM., et al. (2015) Choice of biodiversity index drives optimal fire management decisions Ecological Applications. 25: 264-277.

Kelly, LT., et al. (2015) Optimal fire histories for biodiversity conservation Conservation Biology. 29: 473-481.

McCarthy, MA et al. (2014) Linking indices for biodiversity monitoring to extinction risk theory Conservation Biology 28: 1575-1583.

The original version of this blog can be found on Luke’s website.   

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