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Disruption of cultural burning promotes shrub encroachment and unprecedented wildfires

Mariani, Michela; Connor, Simon E.; Theuerkauf, Martin; Herbert, Annika; Kuneš, Petr; Bowman, David; Fletcher, Michael-Shawn; Head, Lesley; Kershaw, A. Peter; Haberle, Simon G.; Stevenson, Janelle; Adeleye, Matthew; Cadd, Haidee; Hopf, Feli; Briles, Christy

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Simon E. Connor

Martin Theuerkauf

Annika Herbert

Petr Kuneš

David Bowman

Michael-Shawn Fletcher

Lesley Head

A. Peter Kershaw

Simon G. Haberle

Janelle Stevenson

Matthew Adeleye

Haidee Cadd

Feli Hopf

Christy Briles


Recent catastrophic fires in Australia and North America have raised broad-scale questions about how the cessation of Indigenous burning practices has impacted fuel accumulation and structure. For sustainable coexistence with fire, a better understanding of the ancient nexus between humans and flammable landscapes is needed. We used novel palaeoecological modeling and charcoal compilations to reassess evidence for changes in land cover and fire activity, focusing on southeast Australia before and after British colonization. Here, we provide what we believe is the first quantitative evidence that the region’s forests and woodlands contained fewer shrubs and more grass before colonization. Changes in vegetation, fuel structures, and connectivity followed different trajectories in different vegetation types. The pattern is best explained by the disruption of Indigenous vegetation management caused by European settlement. Combined with climate-change impacts on fire weather and drought, the widespread absence of Indigenous fire management practices likely preconditioned fire-prone regions for wildfires of unprecedented extent.


Mariani, M., Connor, S. E., Theuerkauf, M., Herbert, A., Kuneš, P., Bowman, D., …Briles, C. (2022). Disruption of cultural burning promotes shrub encroachment and unprecedented wildfires. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 20(5), 292-300.

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Jun 9, 2021
Online Publication Date Feb 15, 2022
Publication Date 2022-06
Deposit Date Jun 25, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 15, 2022
Journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Print ISSN 1540-9295
Electronic ISSN 1540-9309
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 20
Issue 5
Pages 292-300
Keywords Ecology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Public URL
Publisher URL


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