Assessing the impact of the 2019-2020 bushfire season on Australia's 26,000 plant species

Thursday 29th April 2021 (09:00-10:00)
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With Rachael Gallagher, Macquarie University, Australia.

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Part of the Geosciences Seminar Series.

Over the 2019-2020 bushfire season, more than 10 million hectares of Australia burned. To effectively manage the impact of this unprecedented bushfire season, affected species and locations need to be prioritised based on objective criteria which capture inherent risk. We used a continent-wide prioritisation framework with 11 criteria to identify which Australian plant species were most at risk of declines and extinction. This framework uses data on species distribution and traits, coupled to spatial data on threats. We coupled data on species ranges from herbarium occurrences, modelled distributions, and regulatory maps with spatial data on, for instance, the incidence of drought, previous fire history, and weed and feral animal occurrence. Spatial analyses were combined with information on key traits such as species capacity to resprout after fire, obligate seeding, and growth form. 

Of the 26,062 species assessed, 255 had 80% or more of their range burnt and were ranked HIGH for one or more criteria. Overall, the interactive effects of fire and drought, damage by feral herbivores and the risks posed to plant populations by short fire intervals emerged as clear factors shaping species potential for recovery. This analysis highlights how cascading hazards combine to inflate risks of population declines and results are being used to prioritise conservation actions such as listing affected taxa as threatened, post-fire conservation survey and actions, and restoration and seed-banking efforts. 

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