CEED researchers have made a plea to conservation managers and policy makers to pay more attention to the connection between fire and biodiversity conservation. In particular, they want acknowledgement that there are many different types of fire and fire impact across the landscape.

Variation in the time between fires, their severity, size and patchiness is called ‘pyrodiversity’. Because plants and animals often depend on resources that vary as a result of fire, it is argued that pyrodiversity will produce a diversity of habitats that can support more species.

“Some studies demonstrate that more plants and animals live in areas with a high diversity of fire histories, while others show no such relationship. This challenges the generality of the hypothesis that ‘pyrodiversity promotes biodiversity’” says Luke Kelly, an ecologist from The University of Melbourne working with the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia, Spain.

Writing in Conservation Biology, Kelly and colleagues reason that “Despite the inadequacy of the general pyrodiversity hypothesis, scientists and decision makers can achieve desirable outcomes for animal conservation in fire-prone ecosystems by recognizing the important of context; differentiating among hypotheses; focusing on functional heterogeneity; and applying decision frameworks that consider uncertainty”.

In a recent ‘Hot Topic’ for the Ecological Society of Australia, also led by Kelly, the authors are clear that “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.”

The relationship between pyrodiversity and biodiversity is much better understood following research over the last decade. But fire-prone ecosystems continue to experience significant changes, including more extreme fire weather, growing use of prescribed burning, and serious declines in some plant and animal communities.

“Now, more than ever, understanding of animal and plant responses to fire should be used to determine fire management objectives and actions”, says Kelly.

CEED researchers Luke Kelly, Kate Giljohann and Michael McCarthy have recently teamed up with scientists from La Trobe University and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning for an exciting new research project on fire and biodiversity: the Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project.

Ref: Kelly, Brotons and McCarthy (in press) Putting pyrodiversity to work for animal conservation. Conservation Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12861/full

Ref: Kelly, Haslem and Murphy (2016) Managing fire for plant and animal conservation. Ecological Society of Australia ‘Hot Topic’ http://www.ecolsoc.org.au/hot-topics/managing-fire-plant-and-animal-conservation


 Figure. A mosaic of recently burnt pine-oak forest in Catalonia, Spain.