"Reversing the decline of mammals in northern Australia", LifeScientist.com.au - October 2014
The EcoFire project is leading the way in reducing the area burnt in wildfires and retaining old growth vegetation in an attempt to reverse the decline of native mammals in northern Australia.
Australia’s tropical savannas are one of the most fire-prone environments in the world due to the region’s long dry season - the savannas make up around 20% of the country’s landmass and 75% of the total area burnt each year. Recent research has implicated predation by feral cats as a major driver of mammal decline, but cat predation may be influenced by other factors such as fire. Fire can also have a direct impact on mammal numbers. Dr Graeme Gillespie, from the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management, leads a research team that is part of the National Environmental Research Program within the Northern Australia Hub - a collaboration that involves more than 100 researchers and various partners. “The plight of native mammals is a complex problem, and we need evidence to deliver a solution to that problem,” Gillespie said in a statement. “Many people start fires without it being part of an overall plan to manage the landscape. We could increase the survival chances of native mammals by managing fire to reduce its frequency, extent and intensity.” Mammals can survive during and after some fires, but their ability to find cover and food, and to reproduce or retain their numbers, can be drastically reduced. Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is one partner in the Northern Australia Hub that has been researching fire and fire management. Working with several collaborators, AWC’s EcoFire project has halved the area burnt in wildfires and doubled the area of old growth vegetation across a four million-hectare area in the Kimberley. Research undertaken at AWC’s Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Central Kimberley has shown that fire is one threat which allows other factors like predation by feral cats to have a much bigger impact on native mammal populations. “Mammal mortality is likely to be higher after more intense fires because after an intense fire, extensive burnt ground offers few refuges and they are easily picked off by cats,” AWC Chief Scientist Dr Sarah Legge said. “A key success of EcoFire is its collaboration with Indigenous communities and pastoralists. By involving land managers in the research it helps them to see and manage the problem.” “Fire management protocols need to be evidence-based. They should also include targets that leave large areas unburnt for between three and 10 years, and ongoing monitoring.” Research partners in the Northern Australian hub include Australian Institute of Marine Science, Australian National University, The Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, Charles Darwin University, CSIRO, Djelk Rangers (part of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation), Griffith University, James Cook University, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management, University of Sydney, The University of Western Australia, Warddeken Land Management Limited, Wunambal-Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation and University of Technology, Sydney. - See more at: http://lifescientist.com.au/content/life-sciences/news/reversing-the-decline-of-mammals-in-northern-australia-1146576693#sthash.pU3sEh8e.dpuf