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Research and Projects

Diana Virkki is the recipient of the first SEQFBC Student Research Grant

Applied Fire Ecology Research

South East Queensland has a number of unique ecosystems, ranging from moist subtropical rainforest to heathland and dry open grassy woodlands. It is also the fastest growing region in Australia, with over 2.7 million people impacting on native vegetation and ecosystems. Therefore, the QFBC is ideally placed to undertake fire ecology research initiatives, especially those concerned with recommended fire management practices and other mitigation efforts, and translate these results into practical information for land managers and land owners. See research projects below, completed in recent years and click on the links to learn more about some of these projects.

QFBC's Research Student Scholarship  

Students awarded QFBC scholarship to undertake research on fire exclusion effects on wildlife and effects on fire fighting retardants on frogs 

Each year the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium (QFBC) supports students undertaking Honours, Masters or PhD research in applied fire ecology and/or management. Outcomes from these applied research projects contribute to informing best fire practice. The 2019/20 scholarship was granted to Arianne Allen Southern Cross University - Influence of fire-exclusion on fauna communities in Peachester State Forest, and Kate Tunstill, Griffith University- Effects of firefighting chemicals on endangered Fleay’s barred frog (Mixophyes fleayi) tadpoles.


QFBC's Research Student Scholarship recipient Arianne Allen, Honours Student, Southern Cross University conducting field research into fire exclusion on fauna communities (picture supplied by Arianne Allen)

Influence of fire-exclusion on fauna communities in Peachester State Forest.
Arianne Allen, Honours Student, Southern Cross University
Ecosystems are incredibly diverse, requiring varied applications of fire to maintain community health. Just as fire can change vegetation and fauna compositions, lack of fire can have the same effect. Fire exclusion can change vegetation structure by increasing canopy cover, promoting rainforest invasion and altering fauna species composition.
This has been witnessed at one study site within Peachester State Forest, Queensland, which is transitioning from wet sclerophyll forest to rainforest. As a result of vegetation thickening, mid-storey birds which rely on a clear visual line of sight for prey are affected. 
Although it is well understood that vegetation clearing, fragmentation and predation negatively impact fauna species, the affects of fire-exclusion is not well researched.
The aim is to investigate how variations in ‘time since fire’ affect fauna composition in a wet sclerophyll forest. Arianne’s study targets comparisons of forest structure, application of fire and how this impacts variations in faunal species, particularly frogs and birds. By analysing vegetation, fauna, sound ecology and fire treatments across twelve sites, the research aims to determine variances that can inform appropriate fire management. It is expected that most fauna data will be from birds, which will help identify preferred vegetation structure and fire treatments. Any frog data will assist frog conservation at the site. Results will help land managers to prioritise appropriate ecological burns to reduce localised extinction of fauna species.

Effects of firefighting chemicals on endangered Fleay’s barred frog tadpoles
Kate Tunstill, Honours Student, Griffith University (Gold Coast)
The ‘Black Summer’ 2019/20 bushfires were extensive and caused the decline of many native species. With climate change, fire frequency and severity is predicted to increase, and with it the use of chemical fire retardants. This combination will put further pressure ecosystem health. Fire retardants are a chemical tool used by firefighters to control or slow bushfires. The most common is the aerially applied PHOS CHek, identifiable by its red colouring. Over the years, awareness around the environmental safety of fire retardants has been increasing, with earlier studies finding that previous fire chemicals were hazardous to ecosystems. To date, insufficient research has been conducted on the affects of current retardants on aquatic species, especially amphibians. Owing to their permeable skin and dependance on aquatic environments, amphibians are particular vulnerable to changes in water quality and therefore good indicators of ecosystem health. 
Kate’s study aims to understand the impacts PHOS Chek on the endangered Fleay’s barred frog (Mixophyes fleayi) of South-East Queensland. Restricted to fragmented mountain-top environments, this species is vulnerable to bushfire and therefore toxins from fire retardants.  A series of controlled laboratory exposure challenge experiments will be conducted to test the effects of toxins on tadpole metamorphic and behavioural changes. GIS mapping will be used to visually compare the impacts of fire and chemically treated areas on species distribution. It is expected that the results will encourage the development of more environmentally friendly fire retardants and inform policy and practice.

Written by Lisa Boyle QFBC Intern 
Update 16 February 2021 



SEQFBC Research Student Scholarship Program for 2016 

Griffith University and The University of Queensland Students Lighting the Way for Cutting Edge Fire Research
For the second time in five years, a student from Griffith University and for the first time a student from The University of Queensland have been awarded the South East Queensland (SEQ) Fire and Biodiversity Consortium’s Research Student Scholarship to undertake cutting edge fire research.  The Student Scholarship Program, funded and administered by the SEQ Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, aims to provide financial assistance and research support to an honours, masters or PhD student undertaking research into applied fire ecology or fire management in the SEQ bioregion.  See more here.

South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium’s Research Student Scholarship 2015

For the second year running, a student from the University of the Sunshine Coast has been awarded the South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium’s Research Student Scholarship to undertake ground breaking fire research.  Successful recipient, Martyn Eliott, from the Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, from the University of Sunshine Coast will undertake his Honours research into whether cerambycid beetles could be a useful bioindicator of environmental change associated with differing fire regimes.  Specifically, Martyn hopes to establish a link between fire affected habitat, forest health and the composition of cerambycid beetles.  
Dr Samantha Lloyd, Manager of the Consortium is extremely pleased with this outcome. 
The scholarship assessment team were again challenged by the high calibre of applications from students undertaking valuable and cutting edge fire research.”


SEQFBC’s Past Research Student Scholarship Program awards

2013/2014

On November 7 2013, at the SEQFBC Spring Forum, the recipients of the 2013/ 2014 SEQFBC Research Scholarship Program were announced. Applications were judged on merit by three members of the SEQFBC Steering Committee. The scholarship assessment team noted that two applications were of particularly high standard and therefore proposed that two scholarships be awarded for 13/14, rather than just one. 

Honours student, Ross Waldron, began his research in January 2014 and is being supervised by Associate Professor Dr Neil Tindale of the USC and Dr Valerie Debuse, research scientist with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). The project is entitled "Comparing impacts of wildfire and prescribed burning on woody understory composition in a dry open forest" and will make use of the valuable long term date set associated with the DAFF long term experimental sites in Bauple State Forest. 

The second student, Brett Parker, also began his Honours research in 2014 and is being supervised by Sanjeev Srivastava of the USC and Dr Tom Lewis, research scientist with DAFF. Bretts project is entitled "Remotely sensed burnt analysis and validation: A procedure to effectively map spatiotemporal patchiness and severity of fire to guide appropriate ecological management, and will use remote sensing techniques, geographical information systems and field validation methods to map the patchiness of fuel load and the extent and severity of fire on the Sunshine Coast. 

Brett coauthored the following paper recently:


Estimation and evaluation of multi-decadal fire severity patterns using Landsat sensors
Source: Remote Sensing of Environment, Vol 170
Author/s: Brett Parker, Tom Lewis , Sanjeev Srivastava
“Retrospective identification of fire severity can improve our understanding of fire behaviour and ecological responses. However, burnt area records for many ecosystems are non-existent or incomplete, and those that are documented rarely include fire severity data. Retrospective analysis using satellite remote sensing data captured over extended periods can provide better estimates of fire history. This study aimed to assess the relationship between the Landsat differenced normalised burn ratio (dNBR) and field measured geometrically structured composite burn index (GeoCBI) for retrospective analysis of fire severity over a 23 year period in sclerophyll woodland and heath ecosystems. Further, we assessed for reduced dNBR fire severity classification accuracies associated with vegetation regrowth at increasing time between ignition and image capture. This was achieved by assessing four Landsat images captured at increasing time since ignition of the most recent burnt area. Wefound significant linear GeoCBI–dNBR relationships (R2=0.81 and 0.71) for data collected across ecosystems and for Eucalyptus racemosa ecosystems, respectively. Non-significant and weak linear relationships were observed for heath and Melaleuca quinquenervia ecosystems, suggesting that GeoCBI–dNBR was not appropriate for fire severity classification in specific ecosystems. Therefore, retrospective fire severity was classified across ecosystems. Landsat images captured within ~30 days after fire events were minimally affected by post burn vegetation regrowth.”

Read more: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034425715301371


2012/2013

At the Winter Forum on Wednesday June 6, SEQFBC launched the first SEQFBC Student Research Grant. The grant was awarded to Griffith University PhD student, Diana Virkki, for her project on the "responses of small vertebrates to repeated management burns and heterogeneous fire regimes at the patch and local scales in dry eucalypt forests of southeast Queensland".

Fire plays an important ecological role in many Australian ecosystems, and while there is some information on the responses of vegetation to fire, very little is known about the impact of fire on fauna, especially in SEQ. Moreover, inappropriate fire regimes can greatly affect faunal biodiversity and be particularly detrimental to species that are heavily reliant on habitat features such as shrub cover and ground litter, which can be considerably altered by fires. Whilst fire mosaics are often recommended as management strategies, the appropriate mosaic for maintaining biodiversity, for both flora and fauna, has not been well established. Diana aims to address some of these issues in her PhD research.

“This research project is an important step towards determining appropriate and ecologically sustainable fire management regimes. My hope is that it will allow land managers to better conserve species diversity, whilst still fulfilling their land management objectives. We are grateful to SEQFBC for their generous support of this project and look forward to sharing the results” Diana said of her project.
Diana is part of the Griffith School of Environment. For further information on this project please contact Diana Virkki.

Research Project History

 SEQFBC has through links with Griffith University assisted and supervised research students with projects, and sponsors have provided assistance by the way of sites for study and assistance with resourcing.

Listed below are research projects completed by students from Griffith University under the supervision of former SEQFBC Coordinator Cuong Tran:

Lantana management and its impacts on reptile assemblages and habitat quality within a wet- sclerophyll forest in south-east Queensland.

Completed by Diana Virkki as part of BSc Honours program in 2009 through Griffith University.

This study investigated the effects of Lantana camara on reptile assemblages and two integrated approaches to manage and control lantana by (i) herbicide spraying and manually clearing and (ii) herbicide spraying followed by prescribed burning in a densely infested wet-sclerophyll forest, located within the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Curramore Sanctuary.

The key findings from this research showed that sites treated with herbicide followed by burning contained more diverse habitat structures compared to manually cleared sites, and supported a greater diversity of reptiles. Lantana excluded habitat specialists due to changed habitat characteristics such as an open upper canopy structure. No species occurred only in untreated lantana habitats, however, these sites supported relatively high abundances of rare species, particularly challenger skinks Saproscincus rosei. The ecological effects caused by lantana management, and the use of lantana as habitat by a number of species, highlights the importance of implementing staggered patch mosaic lantana management strategies, especially at the landscape scale. The use of herbicide followed by prescribed burning was an ideal approach to manage lantana due to the increased heterogeneity and regrowth of native vegetation which supported more diverse reptile communities. Our results are widely applicable and highlight the need to consider faunal communities in land management programs.

Download research paper


Management and maintenance of fire regimes across private conservation lands.

Authors; Lucy Halliday, Guy Castley, James Fitzsimons, Cuong Tran and Jan Warnken.

This study used a combination of social science research and geographic information system methodology to investigate issues surrounding the management and maintenance of fire regimes on private conservation lands.  

It was identified that private conservation landholders directed far less effort towards fire management than other conservation management actions, despite clearly acknowledging the risk and associated responsibilities of fire management on their lands. Nonetheless, landholders did undertake actions to reduce fuel hazards and prepare for wildfire events on their land. Despite the established role and benefits of fire to many ecosystems in the region, landholder attitudes towards, and understanding of, the ecological role of fire was generally poor.

For more information please follow this link: http://www.publish.csiro.au/?paper=WF10148

The corresponding author: Email: l.halliday@hotmail.com 


The characteristics and accumulation of surface fine fuel in the eucalypt forests and woodlands of Redland Shire

Queensland. Completed by Jan Gilroy as part of fulfillment for the Degree of Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 2005 through Griffith University.

Land managers in southeast Queensland rely upon fuel growth models and hazard assessment guides developed in other regions of Australia and the reliability of these guides had not been thoroughly tested. This study examined the surface fuel component of forested landscapes (Eucalyptus racemosa and E. major/Corymbia citriodora overstoreys) in Redland Shire Council of southeast Queensland.

Findings from this research found that a highly significant underestimation in both the minimum and maximum fine fuels as determined by the Overall Fuel Hazard Guide, in both E. racemosa open woodlands and E. major/C. citriodora open forest. Whilst the Overall Fuel Hazard Guide provides a good indicator of contributors to the overall fuel load, caution should be used due to the consistent underestimation of the actual surface fuel loads. For more information please read the research paper attached below.

Download research paper


One key function of the SEQFBC is to participate in research projects that benefit supporting organisations and members. Outlined below are some significant projects that have been undertaken by the SEQFBC in recent years:

  • Rainforest Recovery Project | Project Managers: SEQ Catchments Pty Ltd;
  • SEQ Water - Biodiversity Corridor Strategy | Project Managers: SEQ Water;
  • The Australian Wildlife Conservancy – Curramore Sanctuary | Lantana Control and Biodiversity. Please see the end of the page for more information.
  • Fire in the ‘Burbs (Partners: Brisbane City Council) | Project Managers: Brisbane City Council;
  • Reassessment of SEQ Bioregion Fire Regime Classification (Partners: Qld Parks & Wildlife Service) | Project Managers: SEQ Fire & Biodiversity Consortium; and
  • Potential fuel profiles for eucalypt-dominated woodlands in SEQ | Project Managers: Griffith University.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Curramore Sanctuary

At Curramore, the project aimed to document the impacts of lantana infestations on floristic diversity, composition and vegetation structure, particularly in wet sclerophyll and rainforest communities.

The practical outcomes of this research have determined the best method/s of controlling lantana for promoting the recovery of healthy vegetation and provide a greater understanding of the role of fire in sub-tropical ecosystems.

For more information about Curramore Sanctuary please click here.