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Fire, people and ecosystem change in Pleistocene Australia


Johnson, CN, Fire, people and ecosystem change in Pleistocene Australia, Australian Journal of Botany, 64, (7-8) pp. 643-651. ISSN 0067-1924 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Journal compilation Copyright CSIRO 2016

DOI: doi:10.1071/BT16138


Since the 1960s, Australian scientists have speculated on the impact of human arrival on fire regimes in Australia, and on the relationship of landscape fire to extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna of Australia. These speculations have produced a series of contrasting hypotheses that can now be tested using evidence collected over the past two decades. In the present paper, I summarise those hypotheses and review that evidence. The main conclusions of this are that (1) the effects of people on fire regimes in the Pleistocene were modest at the continental scale, and difficult to distinguish from climatic controls on fire, (2) the arrival of people triggered extinction of Australia’s megafauna, but fire had little or no role in the extinction of those animals, which was probably due primarily to hunting and (3) megafaunal extinction is likely to have caused a cascade of changes that included increased fire, but only in some environments. We do not yet understand what environmental factors controlled the strength and nature of cascading effects of megafaunal extinction. This is an important topic for future research.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Holocene, intensification, megafaunal extinction, prehistory
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Terrestrial ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
ID Code:114786
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:12
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2017-02-27
Last Modified:2017-11-01

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