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Aboriginal hunting and burning increase Australia's desert biodiversity, Stanford researchers find
Date:5/3/2010

t all those effects, but that's not what maintains the system."

To determine the impact of Martu hunting practices over times, the research team is searching the geologic record for evidence of burning thousands of years into the past. The researchers will also recreate the diversity of historic plant communities using molecular clues hidden in animal remains.

Conserving Australia's deserts

Despite growing awareness of the role that fire plays in wild space, many Australians have been slow to accept Martu burning practices, Rebecca Bird said. "They see it as a destructive force. It's in line with the thinking of most ecologists who view humans as a disturbance of the natural equilibrium," she said. "The Martu perspective is much more that humans are part of it all."

Most Australian conservationists have only paid lip service to Martu hunters, Douglas Bird noted. But desert conservation programs won't work unless they include an understanding of Aboriginal fire, he said. And because hunting is so central their culture, Martu men and women will only accept land-management practices that are compatible with their day-to-day subsistence.

"When you're drafting a fire-management program for a national park, if it's not done with respect to the actual practice of folks and the trade-offs people face on a daily basis, then those prescriptions are disregarded," he said.

To bring Aboriginal representatives into a true dialogue on land management, a delegation from the Western Desert will meet with researchers on the Stanford campus in 2011 or 2012. The Birds and Martu leaders also will host an international conference for anthropologists and ecologists in Australia in 2011 on the role of fire in hunter-gatherer communities and ecosystems. A goal of the conference is to communicate that "indigenous knowledge is not different from scientific knowledge," Rebecca Bird said.

"Through generations of
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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