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Experts question aspects of prescribed burning
Date:2/18/2011

From The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The University of Western Australia, and the, Kings Park and Botanic Garden, the scientists argue that deliberately increasing the frequency of fires may lead to ecosystem degradation and loss of biodiversity.

In a paper published this month in Trends in Plant Science they acknowledge that as climate change increases the combustibility of vegetation, human lives and property are more at risk.

However, they suggest that prescribed burning a key practice by most environmental managers may cause more problems because, they say, there is actually little evidence that Mediterranean-climate plants such as those found in Australia are fire-adapted.

Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and UWA graduate Professor Stephen Hopper said: "Dealing with fire management is a complex business, especially when the dual aims of protection of life and property and of biodiversity conservation coincide.

"Our analysis reveals that it is naive on present evidence to assume that Australian plants are adapted to fire, and that prescribed burning regimes are not only good for the bush but can be applied in any fashion and frequency with impunity. Rather, we should be cautious in prescribed burning practices if biodiversity conservation is an aim, ensuring that good scientific design and adaptive management are applied to local situations, so that we learn as we go.

"Our paper is a plea for better science and closer working relationships between fire managers and scientists to achieve the best outcomes for biodiversity conservation where that is a priority."

The paper's authors argue that the role of fire in engendering adaptive traits in Mediterranean plants has never been tested.

Traits traditionally regarded as evidence of adaption to fire, including smoke-induced germination, co-occur in ecosystems which are not fire-prone and also stimulate germination in plants suc
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Contact: Bryony Phillips
pr@kew.org
44-208-332-5607
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Source:Eurekalert

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