Fire Ecology Overview

Fire is an important ecological disturbance in many areas around the world. It affects the structure of many ecological communities including some forests, grasslands and heathlands. An understanding of fire, the disturbance it creates and the ways in which plants and animals respond is important. Fire ecology is the area of applied ecology dealing with the effects of fire on individual species and ecosystems.

The Australian flora and fauna has evolved in response to a gradually drying climate and to occasional long and severe droughts. Many Australian shrubs and trees are highly inflammable and some actually need fire to regenerate. Others are fire sensitive and easily killed by fire. Plant species and communities respond to differently to varying fire regimes (intensity, frequency and season).

Animals rely on the native flora for food and shelter and often have a very specific relationship with particular plants or vegetation associations.

Fire is a necessary disturbance in some ecosystems. Burning for biodiversity is an accepted management approach and the traditional burning practices of Indigenous communities have long been used to manage and modify Australian landscapes. However, it is essential to apply appropriate fire regimes in different ecological systems; and it must be remembered that there are some ecosystems (e.g. rainforests) where fire is not an appropriate management tool. The ecosystem’s response to fire must be understood for all ecosystems in which fire is to be used as a tool.

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