Fire in Tasmania: Studying one of the world’s most pressing problems in its most unique natural laboratory

By Pau Costa Foundation on

Session: Fire prevention and preparedness

Presenter: James Furlaud (Pyrogeography Lab, School of Nartural Sciences, University of Tasmania)

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Our lab is interested in understanding how landscapes have changed, and will change, particularly discerning the effects of Aboriginal fire usage over the last 40,000 years and the consequences of the disruption of this ancient tradition following European settlement. We are also exploring the plausible consequence of rapid climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas pollution on tree growth, carbon storage and wildfire activity and fuels using macroecological analyses.

Our work is strongly applied, attempting to provide a pathway to achieve sustainable human co-existence with flammable landscape through a better understanding of natural fire regimes. We attempt to use this understanding to develop dynamic fire and fuel management regimes that both protect human settlements and conserve natural ecosystems

Our lab collaborates closely with epidemiologists to understand the impact of biomass smoke pollution on human population health and how best to manage this side-effect of planned burning to manage wildfire fuels.


ABSTRACT: Tasmania is one of the world's most unique flammable ecosystems because of the intermix of flammable and fire sensitive palaeo-endemic ecosystems. Our lab studies the pyrogeography of Tasmania: the study of the geographic and ecological imprint of fire on a landscape, and what role humans play in this ecosystem.

The first step is understanding the natural ecosystems of Tasmania. We have completed much research looking at how the interaction of fire and climate shapes vegetation communities, and what the natural role of fire is in these communities.  Secondly, we are focusing on the past and future role of humans in Tasmanian ecosystems.  Humans have occupied Tasmania for 35,000 years.  Understanding how Aboriginal Australians managed the landscape with fire will be critical in developing future fire management regimes. Lastly we are using large-scale simulations and burning experiments to explore different fuel management and prescribed burning plans.

In this presentation we present recent findings and current research, draw parallels between Tasmania and the wildfire situation in Europe, and suggest some areas for collaboration.

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University of Tasmania