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Population collapse of a Gondwanan conifer follows the loss of Indigenous fire regimes in a northern Australian savanna


Bowman, DMJS and Williamson, GJ and Johnston, FH and Bowman, CJW and Murphy, BP and Roos, CI and Trauernicht, C and Rostron, J and Prior, LD, Population collapse of a Gondwanan conifer follows the loss of Indigenous fire regimes in a northern Australian savanna, Scientific Reports, 12 Article 9081. ISSN 2045-2322 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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The Author(s) 2022. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made.

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41598-022-12946-3


Colonialism has disrupted Indigenous socioecological systems around the globe, including those supported by intentional landscape burning. Because most disruptions happened centuries ago, our understanding of Indigenous fire management is largely inferential and open to debate. Here, we investigate the ecological consequences of the loss of traditional Aboriginal fire management on fire-exposed savannas on the Arnhem Plateau, northern Australia, using the fire-sensitive conifer Callitris intratropica as a bio-indicator. We contrast Kakadu National Park, where traditional Aboriginal fire management was severely disrupted during the early twentieth century following Aboriginal relocation to surrounding settlements, and an adjacent Aboriginal estate where traditional Aboriginal fire management endures. Since 2006, traditional Aboriginal fire management at this site has been overlaid by a program of broad-scale institutionalized burning in the early dry season, designed to reduce greenhouse emissions. Using remote sensing, field survey, and dendrochronology, we show that on the Aboriginal estate, C. intratropica populations depend on the creation of a shifting patch mosaic of long unburned areas necessary for the recruitment of C. intratropica . However, the imposition of broad-scale fire management is disrupting this population patch dynamic. In Kakadu, there have been extreme declines of C. intratropica associated with widespread fires since the mid twentieth century and consequent proliferation of grass fuels. Fire management in Kakadu since 2007, designed to increase the size and abundance of patches of unburned vegetation, has not been able to reverse the population collapse of C. intratropica . Our study demonstrates that colonial processes including relocation of Indigenous people and institutional fire management can have deleterious consequences that are nearly irreversible because of hysteresis in C. intratropica population dynamics.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:savanna, fire, callitris, indigenous, burning, tropical
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Forestry sciences
Research Field:Forestry fire management
Objective Division:Indigenous
Objective Group:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and culture
Objective Field:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander connection to land and environment
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
UTAS Author:Williamson, GJ (Dr Grant Williamson)
UTAS Author:Johnston, FH (Professor Fay Johnston)
UTAS Author:Bowman, CJW (Mr Clancy Bowman)
UTAS Author:Murphy, BP (Dr Brett Murphy)
UTAS Author:Prior, LD (Dr Lynda Prior)
ID Code:150263
Year Published:2022
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2022-06-06
Last Modified:2022-08-18
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