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.


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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Using fire to promote biodiversity

I’m very excited to have a new article with Lluis Brotons in Science!

Fire profoundly influences people, climate, and ecosystems. The impacts of this interaction are likely to grow, with climate models forecasting widespread increases in fire frequency and intensity because of rising global temperatures. However, the relationship between fire and biodiversity is complex. Many plants and animals require fire for their survival, yet even in fire-prone ecosystems, some species and communities are highly sensitive to fire. Recent studies are helping to define fire regimes that support the conservation of species with different requirements in a rapidly changing world.

You can email me ( for a copy or download the full article for free at the following link:


From Kelly, L.T. & Brotons, L. (2017) Using fire to promote biodiversity. Science, 355, 1264-1265. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

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The Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project

Our new fire ecology project is underway!

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 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.


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 me at

 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.

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Integrating ecological models to secure biodiversity across flammable continents

I’ve just moved to Spain to start an exciting new research project with the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia and the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications, Catalonia. Here’s a bit about my veski Fellowship via an interview I did with ARC CEED.

CEED Research Fellow Luke Kelly was recently awarded one of five Victorian Postdoctoral Research Fellowships that will see him travel to Spain to study the threat of fires to biodiversity at the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia.

The Fellowship is part of Victoria’s most prestigious science and innovation awards. Awarded by veski on behalf of the Victorian government, the Fellowship gives Luke the opportunity to spend two years as a guest researcher in Spain, followed by a third year at the University of Melbourne.

Luke has worked with CEED (through the University of Melbourne) as a research fellow for four years and credits the knowledge gained on the project to securing the grant.

“I was thrilled to be offered the Fellowship. It’s a fantastic career opportunity and I certainly owe some of the credit to the ARC CEED project,” he said.

Luke’s PhD research tested the hypothesis that ‘pyrodiversity promotes biodiversity’.

“Working on the ARC CEED project provided me with an excellent opportunity to build on this work and to tackle new ideas and approaches to conservation management.”

“I get to do fun things like building species distribution models in forest ecosystems, modelling biodiversity in Melanesia, surveying mammals in arid landscapes, and working with talented scientists from Melbourne and around the world.”

Fires are now one of the biggest threats to biodiversity in Victoria. One of the greatest challenges of land management in Victoria is managing fire to reduce the risk to human life and property, yet maintain our globally significant biodiversity.

“One reason this challenge is complex is because we make fire management decisions with imperfect information such as how plants and animals respond to fire and the probability of future events such as bushfires and droughts. There is also uncertainty about the effectiveness and cost of fire management options.”

Luke said that being awarded the fellowship means he can further develop his skill set, research knowledge and international networks to better contribute to global conservation challenges.

“It’s also a great adventure for me and my family. My partner Clare and I have a 16-month year old daughter and we are really looking forward to getting involved in the local community in Solsona and learning the local languages.”

solsona landscape

Solsona, Lleida, Spain. Home of the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia and some stunning landscapes.

So why Spain?

The Forest Sciences Centre of Cataloniain Spain is an ideal location for the collaboration. It includes world leaders, such as Dr Lluis Brotons, in modelling biodiversity responses to global change. They also offer access to cutting-edge fire and climate modelling tools, and provide access to their extensive European networks.

“Spain is also ideal because its Mediterranean climate, vegetation, and fire regimes are similar to parts of Victoria. We face very similar threats. But there are some important differences – and these will help to make the approaches we develop more globally transferable.”

Luke hopes his research will allow him to champion Australian fire science internationally.

“I’ll use this fellowship to develop a framework for predicting the impact of future fire regimes on biodiversity, and for designing and evaluating alternative fire management strategies,” he said.

“I hope to bring back new techniques and tools that will benefit Victorian communities and make economic savings, and help to secure the future of biodiversity across the flammable landscapes of Victoria.”

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