European colonization and the emergence of novel fire regimes in southeast Australia

Matthew Adeleye, Simon Connor, Simon Haberle, Annika Herbert, Josephine Brown

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The rapid increase in severe wildfires in many parts of the world, especially in temperate systems, requires urgent attention to reduce fires’ catastrophic impacts on human lives, livelihoods, health and economy. Of particular concern is southeast Australia, which harbours one of the most flammable vegetation types on Earth. While previous studies suggest climate and European activities drove changes in southeast Australian fire regimes in the last 200 years, no study has quantitatively tested the relative roles of these drivers. Here, we use a Generalized Linear Modelling to identify the major driver(s) of fire regime change in the southeast Australian mainland during and prior to European colonization. We use multiple charcoal and pollen records across the region and quantitatively compare fire history to records of climate and vegetation change. Results show low levels of biomass burned before colonization, when landscapes where under Indigenous management, even under variable climates. Biomass burned increased markedly due to vegetation/land-use change after colonization and a major decline in regional precipitation about 100 years later. We conclude that Indigenous-maintained open vegetation minimized the amount of biomass burned prior to colonization, while European-suppression of Indigenous land management has amplified biomass accumulation and fuel connectivity in southeast Australian forests since colonization. While climate change remains a major challenge for fire mitigation, implementation of a management approach similar to the pre-colonial period is suggested to ameliorate the risk of future catastrophic fires in the region.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    JournalThe Anthropocene Review
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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