Changes in fire activity threatens more than 4,400 species globally, says study

Melbourne : Changes in fire activity are putting at risk more than 4,400 species across the globe, according to a new study which calls for people and governments to act and confront the diverse human-driven changes to the environment.
The research, published in the journal Science, found that the species categorised as threatened by an increase in fire frequency or intensity, include the orangutan in Indonesia, and the bird species mallee emu-wren in Australia.
“Those species include 19 per cent of birds, 16 per cent of mammals, 17 per cent of dragonflies and 19 per cent of legumes that are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable,” said lead author, Luke Kelly from the University of Melbourne in Australia.
“That’s a massive number of plants and animals facing threats associated with fire,” Kelly said.
According to the researchers, the recent fires have burned ecosystems where wildfire has historically been rare or absent, from the tropical forests of Queensland, Southeast Asia, and South America to the tundra of the Arctic Circle.
“Very large and severe fires have also been observed in areas with a long history of recurrent fire, and this is consistent with observations of longer fire seasons and predictions of increased wildfire activity in the forests and shrub lands of Australia, southern Europe and the western US,” Kelly said.
While frequent fires are an important part of African savanna ecosystems, the scientists said less fire activity in these parts of the world can lead to shrub encroachment, which can displace wild herbivores such as wildebeest that prefer open areas.
“Understanding what’s causing changes in different places helps us to find effective solutions that benefit people and nature,” Kelly said.
The scientists identified three main groups of human drivers as transforming fire activity and its impacts of biodiversity — global climate change, land-use and biotic invasions.
They urged people and governments around the world to act and confront the diverse changes to the environment that are occurring.
“It really is time for new, bolder conservation initiatives. Emerging actions include large-scale habitat restoration, re-introductions of mammals that reduce fuels, creation of low-flammability green spaces and letting bushfires burn under the right conditions,” Kelly said.
“Our research highlights the magnitude of the challenge fire poses to animals, plants and people, given worsening climatic conditions – a conclusion echoed in the recent Royal Commission report into last summer’s fires,” said Michael Clarke, another co-author of the study from La Trobe University in Australia. (AGENCIES)