Fire and extinction – getting the message across

The Royal Society has recently published two research papers, respectively titled ” What caused extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna of Sahul?” and “Big data integration shows Australian bush-fire frequency is increasing significantly”.

The first paper largely puts to rest the uncertainty around the extinction of megafauna in Sahul, the name for mainland Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania, when there were land bridges.
While climate change had previously been considered to have played an equal or greater role in mega fauna extinction, the evidence now indicates the first human inhabitants played the greatest role. One of the species lost at the time was the large flightless bird Genyornis (Genyornis newtoni), as illustrated in artists impression on the stamp below.

Interestingly, Genyonris, at two metres in height wasn’t much bigger than an Emu, laid eggs of a similar size, was probably carnivorous and it seems likely couldn’t run as fast. Genyornis egg shell fragments, with burn marks have been located in many locations. The conclusion is that Aboriginals cooked them, in a fire.

The second paper confirms a recent  increase in fire frequency summed up with the following, ” . . . Australian weekly bush-fire frequencies increased by 40% over the last 5 years, particularly during summer months, implicating a serious climatic shift.”

genyornis

I’m looking forward to the research confirming a connection between the loss of biodiversity and the ongoing loss of native species.

In the interim, the ABC has produced another report on the manna gum die-back project on the tablelands. According to Dr Cris Brack, who is heading up the project ” . . .the affected area was so vast then any single cause must equally be present on the same vast scale.” However, he added “We haven’t been able to come to a conclusive answer to that — we don’t know. So we think it’s probably a combination of a whole range of things,”

Dr Bracks went on to say” . . . One of the biggest problems was that there was no single entity in place with the mission to deal with a region-wide environmental crisis like this.”

If there was a single entity, it would be reassuring to know that a greater understanding of fire and its generally negative impacts, particularly on soils, would be considered.

In that regard, there is a petition on change.org, calling on the Federal government to increase fire fighting capacity by purchasing more ‘air-cranes’. Previously it has been argued that the cost is too great. However, as the RAAF recently provided a Hercules transport plane to ferry a dugong from Merimbula to Brisbane, talk of cost seems a little crass.

This is particularly the case given the number of people, properties and forests that have been destroyed, during the past year alone.

Only one hundred signatures are required for the petition, so the quicker this happens, the more likely some of our pollies may begin to get the message.

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