Issue 2
Monday, 01 April 2019
Charles Darwin University
The burnt remains of a River Red Gum in Ormiston Creek. Inset: Desert Ecology students observe bird behaviour
The burnt remains of a River Red Gum in Ormiston Creek. Inset: Desert Ecology students observe bird behaviour

Fires give rise to value of red gum data

By Patrick Nelson

Survey work undertaken by Environmental Science students on River Red Gums in Central Australia’s West MacDonnell Ranges, and the bird communities associated with these trees, has taken on new significance in the aftermath of a summer of bushfires.

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science Dr Christine Schlesinger said that this year students would be able to compare their survey data to baseline data collected in the past three years to understand how the recent fire has affected an arid river channel.

“The January fires have positioned us to make some pre- and post-fire comparisons for the first time since we’ve been running the Desert Ecology field intensives,” Dr Schlesinger said.

“Students enrolled in this winter’s field trip will have the opportunity to observe how fire has impacted our six survey sites along 3 km of Ormiston Creek.”

Dr Schlesinger said the condition of the river gums in Ormiston Creek, 140km west of Alice Springs, was particularly good, relative to nearby rivers, when it was chosen as a study site in 2016.

“They had not been affected by broad-scale fires that occurred in 2001 and 2011. But we noted the high cover of introduced buffel grass, which promotes fire, along the river banks and we predicted that when the sites did inevitably burn there could be significant damage to the River Red Gums.”

Some of the 1000 trees measured at the sites are estimated to be up to 500 years old.

“We know that some of these large old trees, which were important habitats for a variety of bird species, have been lost.”

Dr Schlesinger said data regarding the size range of trees and their density would be gathered during this year’s field intensive to determine the change in the overall tree population caused by the fires.

“We’ll also assess whether the bird community in the river channels has changed compared to the previous three years, and whether birds are using trees differently post-fire,” she said.