Mosaic burning research

Thursday 20 March, 2014

Through the support of a Bush Heritage AndyInc Foundation Environmental Research Scholarship, Emma Burgess has been investigating the ecological effects of mosaic burning at Carnarvon Station as part of her PhD studies.

Emma Burgess at Carnarvon Station Reserve. Photo by Donna OliverEmma Burgess at Carnarvon Station Reserve. Photo by Donna Oliver

In 2011 I was lucky enough to receive scholarship funding to conduct some fire management research that would contribute to Bush Heritage’s work. Since then I’ve spent several extended periods on Carnarvon Station Reserve, staying with the Wilson family who manage the property.

Their home on the reserve is in a beautiful elevated valley in the Carnarvon Ranges of the central Queensland sandstone belt. Climbing up one of the many lookouts you can really appreciate the range in altitude that supports a diverse array of ecosystems.

My research involved both vegetation and bird surveys, predominantly in the lowland woodlands of the valley floor. The aim was to better understand and be able to predict biodiversity responses to fire management work.

Controlled burns (or mosaic burns) have been frequently used as a land management tool in fire-prone ecosystems since well before European settlement. This approach has been used on Carnarvon Station since 2001, to reduce the spread of wildfires and restore variation in vegetation structure.

The black-chinned honeyeater has been found in declining numbers on Carnarvon Station. Photograph by Wayne LawlerThe black-chinned honeyeater is declining numbers on Carnarvon Station.
Photo by Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

The idea that pyro diversity (creating patches with different fire histories) should support biodiversity has a simple appeal, but to date my results suggest long unburnt areas still support the greatest diversity of plants – particularly in the mid-storey strata – which in turn support the greatest diversity of bird species. However, conducting regular controlled burns in strategic areas actually helps to preserve such long unburnt habitats.

Planned burns work to reduce the extent of individual wildfires, the completeness of their burn area and their intensity.

The next steps in this research will be examining the different impacts of various sized fires on bird species so we can start to identify the optimal scale for fire management work.

I’m very much indebted to Bush Heritage for enabling this research and to staff for backing me up with their local knowledge and mechanical wizardry. Fieldwork in such a remote and rugged area always has its challenges!

The AndyInc Foundation was established in 2002 by Bush Heritage board member Andrew Myer. It provides strategic investments in community organisations and its focus includes environmental sustainability.

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