The focus of the study is to investigate past, present and future changes in fire regimes and shifts in vegetation composition, structure and distribution of the Great Sandy Region of south eastern Queensland over time and space in conjunction with changes in precipitation and temperature and possible future fire management of the region. 

Strong evidence exists of a warming of the atmosphere which is seeing an increase in warm El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) years with a weakening of the Walker circulation over the past decades (Knopf and Petoukhov, 2007; Meng et al. 2012). Present data saw that there has been an increase in width of the tropical belt of between 2o to 4.8o latitude north/south over the past 30 years (Seidel and Randel, 2007; Grassi et al. 2012; Davis and Rosenlof, 2012; Allen et al, 2012a b). This expansion has seen the shift in the subtropical subsidence, leading to an enhanced mid-latitude tropospheric warming and poleward shift of the subtropical dry zone, jet streams and storm tracks, which is expected to contribute to an increased frequency of mid-latitude droughts in both hemispheres (Seidel et al, 2008; Grassi et al, 2012; Wilcox et al, 2012; Allen et aI 2012a; Cai et al. 2012).

Records of fire are recorded in charcoal deposits dating back to 440 million years ago (mya) when the first stomata-bearing plants evolved (Pausas and Keeley. 2009) on the planet, these fires were estimated to be low intensity fires. However according to Pausas and Keeley (2009) charcoal deposits increased substantially around 345 mya correlation with an increase in atmospheric oxygen levels in the atmosphere through to 2.5 mya when humans started evolving and using fire. In north east Queensland records of Aboriginal fire started around 30000 years ago up until the arrival of Europeans approximately 200 years ago when charcoal deposits increased due to land clearing (Haberle, et al. 2010). Charcoal records from North Stradbroke Island at Myora Springs show Aboriginal occupation from as early as 20 000 years ago (Moss, et al. 2013) and that a shift to a warm ENSO period from between 800 to 500 years ago caused dryer conditions prevailing on the island, resulting in drought and higher anthropogenic fire frequency during this period on the island. This was followed by cooler, wetter conditions developing around 500 years ago and a decline in charcoal deposits (Moss, et al. 2011). With the arrival of Europeans fire regimes once again changed around 200 years ago resulting in often more frequent fires and burn-offs for agricultural, residential and industrial purposes, changing the landscape with an increase in fire tolerant vegetation, Eucalyptus forest and Melaleuca swamp paperbark at the expense of less fire tolerant species like Casuarinaceae (Moss, et al.2011). According to Haberle et al (2010), “No single driver can explain past fire patterns and many events may be the result of multiple drivers interacting on differing temporal and spatial scales”.

Of critical importance is the understanding of the interactions between multiple drivers of fire regimes from the past and present which is critical for developing fire regime management protocols for Australia in the future (Haberle, et al. 2010).

Funding: APA (Australian Postgraduate Award)

Advisors: Assoc Prof Patrick Moss, Dr Bradd Witt, Dr Gabriel Yospin

 

Project members

Philip Stewart

Philip Stewart

PhD Graduate 2017