Impacts of savanna burning on biodiversity

Savanna burning has a long history in Australia, with Aboriginal use and management stretching back for millennia. Across northern Australia, it is a landscape-scale activity that affects vegetation and biodiversity. Many factors affect the frequency and timing of burning including land tenure (e.g. protected areas, pastoral, Indigenous land) and related management objectives (e.g. biodiversity, emissions trading, grazing, weed management, fire prevention). The various fire management aspirations for Indigenous land have been well described in the literature and continue to be the focus of discussion at annual north Australia savanna fire forums.

The impact of different fire regimes on biodiversity is of global interest and is a common aim of many savanna fire management programs. This project aimed to review the current burning regimes in northern Australia and the existing understanding of their relationship to biodiversity conservation. A secondary aim of the project was to identify pathways and opportunities for monitoring activities and future research which can help to inform how different fire regimes can benefit biodiversity.

There are some excellent published long-term systematic biodiversity surveys in the Northern Territory – particularly in Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks – and several large-scale ongoing monitoring programs measuring different elements of biodiversity in partnership with land holders (e.g. Karrkad Kanjdji Trust). These monitoring programs will become important future studies to better understand the responses of biodiversity to different fire management practices applied across the region.

The project:

  • completed a systematic desktop review of the impacts of fire on biodiversity in savanna landscapes, including compiling evidence that can inform improved long-term fire management
  • convened workshops with biodiversity and fire experts to identify critical knowledge gaps, important data sources and refine the systematic review
  • described current fire management regimes on different land tenure types and reviewed their differences and impact on biodiversity
  • synthesised contemporary policy and management influences on savanna burning to understand recent trends and changes
  • engaged Indigenous organisations to develop a robust and ethical process for capturing the diverse views and experiences of fire managers across northern savanna landscapes.

  • Savanna burn where a fallen tree is on fire.
  • Savanna burning with a ranger in the foreground
  • Coarse wood debris burning after a fire front. Photo Garry Cook
  • Savanna burning photo with smokey fire and dense scrubland.