Integrating Animal and Plant Paradigms to Enhance Fire Ecology

I’m excited to have a new article on animal and plant ecology in the journal Fire.

We call for better integration of animal-based and plant-based approaches in fire ecology (summarised in the figure below).

This one was a few years in the making but was a lot of fun to write with a team of scientists doing novel research, on a range of taxa, in ecosystems around the world.

The paper is open access and you can download the whole thing here.

Abstract. Conserving animals and plants in fire-prone landscapes requires evidence of how fires affect modified ecosystems. Despite progress on this front, fire ecology is restricted by a dissonance between two dominant paradigms: ‘fire mosaics’ and ‘functional types’. The fire mosaic paradigm focuses on animal responses to fire events and spatial variation, whereas the functional type paradigm focuses on plant responses to recurrent fires and temporal variation. Fire management for biodiversity conservation requires input from each paradigm because animals and plants are interdependent and influenced by spatial and temporal dimensions of fire regimes. We propose that better integration of animal-based and plant-based approaches can be achieved by identifying common metrics that describe changes in multiple taxa; linking multiple components of the fire regime with animal and plant data; understanding plant-animal interactions; and incorporating spatial and temporal characteristics of fires into conservation management. Our vision for a more integrated fire ecology could be implemented via a collaborative and global network of research and monitoring sites, where measures of animals and plants are linked to real-time data on fire regimes.Kelly et al Figure 1

Figure 1. Fire mosaic and functional type paradigms can be defined by the following characteristics: (i) taxonomic focus (animal-based vs. plant-based); (ii) how they characterize fire regimes (fire events vs. recurrent fires); (iii) the mode of generalization (habitat change vs. life-history traits); and (iv) implications for fire management (spatial mosaics vs. temporal intervals). A more integrated approach would emphasize: multiple taxonomic groups and their interactions (biodiversity); different components of the fire regime acting in concert (fire regimes); comprehensive understanding of mechanisms underpinning biotic associations with fire and interdependency between different taxa (shared mechanisms); and decision-making that considers how both spatial and temporal dimensions of fire regimes influence biodiversity (spatio-temporal management).

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Plants, evolutionary adaptation and global change

I’ve recently started a position in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne.

I’ll be starting new work on plants, evolutionary adaptation and global change as part of my Centenary Fellowship.

I’m excited about new collaborations with colleagues from SEFS, Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, the Quantitative and Applied Ecology Research Group and several groups in Spain.

If you’re a student looking to work on the evolution of plants and life-history traits in fire-prone ecosystems it’s a good time to flick me an email: ltkelly@unimelb.edu.au

Catalonia

In Mediterranean pine-oak forests, some plants need fire to complete their life cycles, and others have adaptations, such as thick bark or the capacity to resprout, that aid recovery after fire. Catalonia, Spain.

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Managing fire for plant and animal conservation

A recent initiative from the Ecological Society of Australia is the publication of one-page ‘Hot Topics’ that synthesise ideas and issues important to environmental policy.

In 2017 I wrote a Hot Topic on ‘Managing fire for plant and animal conservation‘ with Angie Haslem (La Trobe) and Brett Murphy (Charles Darwin University). It’s just been republished in the journal Austral Ecology – along with five other widely read Hot Topics.

A simple – but often overlooked – point we emphasised is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fire management. Natural ecosystems contain different species, have different fire regimes and present different fire risks to biodiversity and people. Fire management will be more effective when guided by local knowledge and based on the demonstrated requirements of plants and animals, as well as the habitats they depend on.

Having said that, much of my own research focuses on approaches and tools that can help us make useful generalisations about when and where fire can benefit plants and animals. The key to implementing such approaches is to ensure they are tailored to suit the needs of particular ecosystems and species.

You can read our Hot Topic, and summary of selected papers on pyrodiversity, here.

Kelly Haslem Murphy Managing fire for plant and animal conservation_Page_1

An aerial incendiary line in Kakadu National Park. The creation of fine-grained fire mosaics using prescribed burning is an objective of many fire managers. (Photo: Clay Trauernicht)

 

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Small mammals, habitat refuges and fire regimes

In February I started new work with PhD student Kate Senior on small mammals, habitat refuges and fire regimes in Murray Sunset National Park, Victoria. In fire-prone ‘mallee’ landscapes of semi-arid Australia, we’re collecting new data on the spatial ecology of small mammals and their predators, combined with manipulative field experiments, to help guide on-ground management of planned burning and fire suppression activities.

During a successful pilot study we captured several native small mammal species (western pygmy-possum, mallee ningaui and Mitchell’s hopping mouse) and tried out new techniques for exploring the movements of small mammals before, after and during fires. Next up Kate will be incorporating movement studies into a planned burn conducted by the Department of Environment, Land and Water, Victoria.

If you’re interested in doing honours or postgraduate studies in 2018-2019 at University of Melbourne on wildlife and bushfires then flick me (ltkelly@unimelb.edu.au) or Kate Senior (senior@student.unimelb.edu.au) an email. At the following links you can check out some of my previous work on small mammals, fire mosaics, rainfall and life-history.

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Future scenarios of fire and biodiversity

Scenario planning is a powerful way to evaluate management alternatives when contending with uncontrollable and irreducible uncertainty. It’s a particularly useful approach for exploring ecological processes with high levels of uncertainty such as bushfires and climate change.

In November, our team from the Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project ran a one-day workshop with 30 fire and biodiversity managers and researchers from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Our aim was to identify a small set of critical uncertainties that might influence the success of alternative fire management options.

scenario workshop group

Participants in the workshop on fire and biodiversity scenarios held at University of Melbourne, Parkville.  Participating agencies: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Vic), Parks Victoria, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and SA Department of Environment. 

Co-designing scenarios with key stakeholders proved a fantastic opportunity to clarify social and conservation objectives, develop novel management alternatives and explore a range of possible futures relating to extreme weather, demographics and public policy.

The next stage of the Spatial Solutions project will be to use a ‘storyline and simulation’ approach to estimate the consequences of alternative management options against the backdrop of critical uncertainties identified in the workshop.

If you’re interested in discussing ideas, tools and methods relating to scenario analysis and fire modelling get in touch with Luke Kelly (ltkelly@unimelb.edu.au) and Kate Giljohann (kmgi@unimelb.edu.au).

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Fire in the foothills

My new piece in Decision Point with Angie Haslem and Steve Leonard is out.

‘Foothill forests’ cover approximately 7.5 million ha in the state of Victoria. They are a priority for fire management, containing significant biodiversity and posing risks of fires to people and property. But how do you manage a major natural disturbance like fire when they are occur across a broad-scale environmental gradient like foothill forests?

You can read the article here and our corresponding research paper in Ecosphere here.

decision point front cover

 

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Wildfires are raging in the Mediterranean. What can we learn?

I have new piece in The Conversation with Eduard Plana Bach and Marc Font Bernet.

In Italy, firefighters across the country are battling hundreds of wildfires, the flames fanned by a combination of heat and drought.

This is just the latest in a succession of fires in the Mediterranean. In June, forest fires in Portugal killed 64 people in Pedrógão Grande, in the Leira district, and immediately afterwards Spanish forests went up in flames, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,500 people from homes and campsites.

Fires are expected in the summer, but they don’t usually have such severe consequences. These incidents highlight the need to rethink how landscapes can be managed to protect people and sustain ecosystems when the region’s climate and population are rapidly changing.

Read the full article here.

tunisia

Forest fires are an important part of Mediterranean ecoystems. Here, a pine seedling emerges shortly after a wildfire in Tunisia. Photo: Eduard Plana.

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