Abstract

Australia is currently witnessing the effects of devastating wildfires linked to increasingly variable and unpredictable climate cycles, along with the world's most significant decline of endemic mammals.  Here we present data from our long-term ethno-ecological project illustrating how contemporary Martu foragers, Traditional Owners of a large region of Australia's Western Desert, serve as trophic regulators and apex predators, both in their hunting of mesopredator populations and in their fire-mediated disturbance of plant communities.  With the loss and persecution of many Aboriginal populations in the desert regions between 1920 and 1965, the combination of periodically extensive wildfires and increases in mesopredator populations resulted in hyperpredation that caused small mammal populations to crash.  We find evidence of regulatory effects on mesopredator populations, increased availability and diversity of habitat niches that favor endemic mammals, and reduced climate-related variability in fire size and severity in landscapes where Martu frequently hunt and burn compared to landscapes dominated by a climate-driven fire regime.  We then explore some ecological and policy implications of autonomy in indigenous communities where subsistence practices are embedded in co-evolved relationships between people and their lands.

Related reading, Hunting with fire appears to benefit Australia's small-mammal populations, say Stanford researchers

The forum is followed by a reception.