Massive Otways research project helps plants and animals at risk of fire devastation

July 17 / 195

Research into the effects of unplanned and planned fire on native plants and animals in the Great Otway National Park was celebrated on this year's World Environment Day (5 June).

A team of researchers from the University was awarded the 2017 Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award from Parks Victoria, which recognises outstanding contributions of applied science to park management.

This year’s winners have contributed to improved understanding of how planned burns can be best applied to help conserve native plants and animals in the Great Otway National Park. The project has also given valuable insights into how introduced species like foxes respond to fire. Rangers will be able to use these results to run more effective baiting programs.

The project covered 60,000 hectares in the Great Otway National Park and Forest Park over six years and investigated how the arrangement of fires over space and time (known as fire mosaics) affects plants and animals.

Called ‘Fire, landscape pattern and biodiversity in the Otway Ranges’, the project ran from 2010-2016 and involved four staff and 17 students from the Fire Ecology and Biodiversity Research Group at the University of Melbourne.

Findings from the research have helped guide decisions about the ideal frequency, severity and ‘patchiness’ of planned burns in the region to help create and maintain habitat for native animals.

Associate Professor Alan York from the University’s School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences said it was a great honour to have his group's research recognised by the award.

“The project has demonstrated that collaborations between land management agencies, Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and universities, can produce significant results with long-term benefits for conservation.

“With significant increases in the use of planned fire in the landscape, Park managers need to have confidence in this new mosaic burning strategy and know its strengths and weaknesses. This research has provided the scientific evidence to provide that confidence,” he said.

Some elements of the research are now continuing as part of the Otway Ark program that aims to protect threatened species through scientific monitoring and fox control.

The program was funded by DELWP and was a collaborative effort, involving the team led by the University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Alan York working in close collaboration with local teams from Parks Victoria and DELWP.

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