Using fire to promote biodiversity

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Science  24 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6331, pp. 1264-1265
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7672

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  • RE: Using fire to promote biodiversity
    • Neil Burrows, Fire Research Scientist, Parks and Wildlife Western Australia
    • Other Contributors:
      • Vic Jurskis, Forest scientist (retired)
      • Roger Underwood, Forest Fire Manager (retired)

    Kelly and Brotons (1) suggest that valuable modern research is developing new theoretical approaches to specify fire regimes that support biodiversity in environments where fire is a ‘key disturbance’. They give an example of using life history traits of plants, especially times to reproductive maturity and senescence, to specify lower and upper limits of intervals between fires to support individual species. They say that there is rapid progress in applying new models and tools to make better choices about prescribed burning and fire suppression in a changing world. However there is a practical challenge of integrating scientific knowledge with traditional local knowledge (1, 2).

    Our view is that theoretical approaches incorporate false assumptions about biotic responses, consequent to lack of historical perspective and appreciation of physical fire behavior (3, 4, 5). For example, time to reproductive maturity is irrelevant to plant responses in mild fires that do not damage mature individuals or penetrate dense immature stands (3, 4, 5). The disproportionately high habitat value of long unburnt eucalypt woodlands (1) is not a function of time since fire. Rather it stems from widespread loss of mature trees and shrubs in the modern regime of infrequent, extensive, severe fires (4). Traditional fire expert, Victor Steffensen, who is reacquainting people around Australia with frequent mild burning to promote biodiversity, says that “western science needs to take a s...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.