Issue 4
Monday, 10 April 2017
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Researchers hope to improve the understanding of the impacts of weed invasion, land clearing and changes to fire patterns
Researchers hope to improve the understanding of the impacts of weed invasion, land clearing and changes to fire patterns

Fire, weeds a recipe for ecosystem failure

By Leanne Miles

An environment researcher is co-leading a project to improve understanding of the impacts of weed invasion, land clearing and changes to fire patterns on natural landscapes in the Top End.

Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Dr Natalie Rossiter-Rachor has been working on invasive weeds in Northern Australia for more than 15 years and will work with a team of collaborators from the NESP Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub.

“Exotic African grasses that were introduced to Northern Australia to increase the production of the cattle grazing industry have gone on to become serious weeds, invading a range of non-pastoral land, including conservation and Indigenous land,” Dr Rossiter-Rachor said. “These grass invasions have led to significant ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and biodiversity decline.”

The research will look at the NT’s greater Darwin region and the Daly River catchment, which have been invaded by weeds such as gamba grass that threaten native plants and animals, and impede access to parts of the landscape.

“Invasion by grassy weeds can generate high fuel loads and the resulting changes in fire regimes can significantly alter ecosystem processes and may eventually lead to ecosystem failure,” she said.

The project will draw on more than 17 years of research and use new data to model the likely scenarios of changes in ecosystem function over the next 30 years in the Darwin and Daly regions.

“This information is critical to help land-use planners and managers to predict and hopefully prevent such failure, as well as to improve safety and minimise losses to other assets,” Dr Rossiter-Rachor said.

The NESP project is led by Dr Rossiter-Rachor and Associate Professor Samantha Setterfield from the University of Western Australia.