Animal response to a bushfire is astounding. These are the tricks they use to survive



Some animals stay put after a bushfire and rebuild their populations from charred landscapes.
LUKAS COCH/AAP

Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University

Have you ever wondered how our native wildlife manage to stay alive when an inferno is ripping through their homes, and afterwards when there is little to eat and nowhere to hide? The answer is adaptation and old-fashioned ingenuity.

Australia’s bushfire season is far from over, and the cost to wildlife has been epic. A sobering estimate has put the number of animals killed across eastern Australia at 480 million – and that’s a conservative figure.

But let’s look at some uplifting facts: how animals survive, and what challenges they overcome in the days and weeks after a fire.

This possum decided to flee a bushfire in the NSW Hunter region in 2018, but many other animals stay put.
AAP/Darren Pateman

Sensing fire

In 2018, a staff member at Audubon Zoo in the United States accidentally burned pastry, and noticed something peculiar. In nearby enclosures ten sleepy lizards, or Tiliqua rugosa, began pacing and rapidly flicking their tongues. But sleepy lizards in rooms unaffected by smoke remained burrowed and calm.

It was obvious the lizards sensed the smoke from the burnt pastry, probably through olfaction, or sense of smell (which is enhanced by tongue flicking). So the lizards were responding as they would to a bushfire.

In Australia, experiments have shown smoke also awakens Gould’s long-eared bats and fat-tailed dunnarts, enabling their escape from fire.




Read more:
Bushfires have reshaped life on Earth before. They could do it again


Animals also recognise the distinct sounds of fire. Reed frogs flee towards cover and eastern-red bats wake from torpor when played the crackling sounds of fire.

Other species detect fire for different reasons. Fire beetles from the genus Melanophila depend on fire for reproduction, as their larvae develop in the wood of burned trees. They can detect fire chemicals at very low concentrations, as well as infrared radiation from fires.

The beetles can detect very distant fires; one study suggests individuals of some species identify a fire from 130km away.

Stay or go?

Once an animal becomes aware of an approaching fire, it’s decision time: stay or go?

It’s common to see large animals fleeing a fire, such as the kangaroos filmed hopping from a fire front in Monaro in New South Wales a few days ago. Kangaroos and wallabies make haste to dams and creek lines, sometimes even doubling back through a fire front to find safety in areas already burned.

Other animals prefer to stay put, seeking refuge in burrows or under rocks. Smaller animals will happily crash a wombat burrow if it means surviving a fire. Burrows buffer animals from the heat of fires, depending on their depth and nearby fuel loads.

From here, animals can repopulate the charred landscape as it recovers. For example, evidence suggests populations of the agile antechinus (a small carnivorous marsupial) and the bush rat recovered primarily from within the footprint of Victoria’s Black Saturday fires.

Avoiding fire is only half the battle

The hours, days, and weeks after fire bring a new set of challenges. Food resources will often be scarce, and in the barren landscape some animals, such as lizards and smaller mammals, are more visible to hungry predators.

Birds of prey arrive quickly at fires. Several species in northern Australia have been observed intentionally spreading fires by transporting burning sticks in their talons or beaks.




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One US study published in 2017 recorded a seven-fold increase in raptor activity during fire. They begin hunting as the fires burn, and hang around for weeks or months to capitalise on vulnerable prey.

Feral cats can travel kilometres in search of vulnerable prey in a burnt-out landscape.
HUGH MCGREGOR

In Australia, introduced predators can also be drawn to fires. Feral cats have been observed travelling up to 12.5km from their home ranges towards recently burned savanna ecosystems, potentially drawn by distant smoke plumes promising new prey.

A 2016 study found a native rodent was 21 times more likely to die in areas exposed to intense fire compared to unburned areas, mostly due to predation by feral cats. Red foxes have an affinity for burned areas too.

So should a little critter hunker down, or begin the hazardous search for a new home?

Staying put

Perhaps because of the risks of moving through an exposed landscape, several Australian mammals have learnt to minimise movement following fire. This might allow some mammal populations to recover from within a fire footprint.

Native mammals have been found hiding in beds of ash after fires.




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Short-beaked echidnas seek refuge and, when finding it, lower their body temperature and limit activity, so reducing the amount of food they need for energy. Despite their spiny defences, echidnas have been found more often in the stomachs of foxes following fire, so staying put in a little refuge is a good move.

Small marsupials such as brown and yellow-footed antechinus also use torpor to suppress their energy use and therefore the need to seek food.

Some animals can flee a fireground, while others use bush-smarts to stay put.
Jeremy Piper/AAP

Running the gauntlet

Not all wildlife have adapted to stay put after a fire, and moving in search of a safe haven might be the best option.

Animals might take short, information-gathering missions from their refuges into the fireground before embarking on a risky trek. They may, for example, spot a large, unburned tree that would make good habitat, and so move towards it. Without such cues to orient their movement, animals spend more time travelling, wasting precious energy reserves and increasing the risk of becoming predator food.

A dead bird at a Victorian property on January 4, 2019. The ecological toll of the bushfires is immense.
James Ross/AAP

Survival is not assured

Australia’s animals have a long, impressive history of co-existing with fire. However, a recent study I led with 27 colleagues considered how relatively recent threats make things much harder for animals in fire-prone landscapes.

Some native species are not accustomed to dealing with red foxes and feral cats, and so might overlook cues that indicate their presence, and make the bad decision to move through a burned landscape when they should stay put.




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When fires burn habitat in agricultural or urban landscapes, animals might encounter not just predators but vehicles, livestock and harmful chemicals.

And as this bushfire season has made brutally clear, climate change is increasing the scale and intensity of bushfires. This reduces the number of small refuges such as fallen logs, increases the distance animals must cover to find new habitat and leaves fewer cues to direct them to safer places.

We still have a lot to learn about how Australia’s wildlife detect and respond to fire. Filling in the knowledge gaps might lead to new ways of helping wildlife adapt to our rapidly changing world.The Conversation

Dale Nimmo, Associate professor/ARC DECRA fellow, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our legacy of liveable cities won’t last without a visionary response to growth



File 20180327 188613 1komx6d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Historic investments in green open space along the Yarra created a legacy of liveability in Melbourne.
Ispas Vlad/Shutterstock

Chris Chesterfield, Monash University

Australia’s major cities are growing more rapidly than ever before, gaining three million residents in a decade. Concerns about the risks to their long-term liveability and health are growing too. Is the consistent placing of Australian cities at the top of most liveable city rankings a reason for complacency?

The fastest-growing city, Melbourne, is experiencing unprecedented growth and yet has topped The Economist Intelligence Unit global liveability ranking for seven years running. However, much like Australia’s remarkable record of 26 years of continuous economic growth, many of the policy and institutional reforms that delivered this liveability legacy occurred decades ago.




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Three charts on Australia’s population shift and the big city squeeze


Australia is now undergoing its third great wave of population growth, putting pressure on infrastructure, services and the environment. During the past two waves of growth, in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries, cities implemented visionary responses. It’s largely because of these past phases of planning and investment that our cities have until now been able to sustain their liveability and a reasonably healthy natural environment.

A third wave of planning and investment in open space and green infrastructure is now needed to underpin liveability as our cities grow. The past offers important lessons about what made Melbourne, in particular, so liveable.

Can we repeat the leadership of yesterday?

In the early 19th century, European settlers ignored and displaced the Indigenous knowledge and connections with country. What grew in their place were initially little more than shambolic frontier towns.

In the Port Phillip colony, the gold rush, the subsequent population and property booms and the lack of city services led to Melbourne gaining an international reputation as “Smellbourne”.

But then, over several decades, visionary plans set aside a great, green arc of parklands and tree-lined boulevards around the city grid.

Melbourne constructed one of the world’s earliest sewerage systems. The forested headwaters of the Yarra River were reserved for water supply. Melbourne is today one of a handful of major cities in the world drawing its natural water supplies from closed catchments.

And so, together with profound social and cultural changes, the shambolic frontier town transformed into “Marvellous Melbourne”. Sydney and Australia’s other capital cities followed similar trajectories.




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All the signs point to our big cities’ need for democratic, metro-scale governance


Then came the world wars and intervening Great Depression. These were times of austerity and sacrifice. Remarkably little investment in open space and green infrastructure occurred over these decades.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics was perhaps the event that signalled the awakening from that somewhat bleak period. It was again time for optimism and vision, with the post-war population boom well under way.

Australia’s population was booming at the time of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with growth averaging 2.7% a year from 1945-1960 (the 2007-17 average is 1.7%).
Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå/Wikimedia

The 1954 Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme reflected this growing optimism and highlighted the potential for a network of open spaces across the rapidly expanding city. But it took time to build momentum for its implementation.

By the 1970s sprawling development had virtually doubled the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Services such as the sewerage system had not kept up. The Yarra and other waterways and Port Phillip Bay were becoming grossly polluted. There was community pressure to tackle pollution caused by industry and unsewered suburbs.

In 1971, the Victorian Environment Protection Authority, the second EPA in the world, was created to regulate industry. State and federal governments made a huge investment in sewering the suburbs.

The city’s planners revived the earlier vision for Melbourne’s open space network, along with the idea of green wedges and development corridors. Greater prosperity and community expectation secured the investment needed to deliver it.

Historic decisions to protect the Yarra River have had lasting benefits for Melbourne.
Dorothy Chiron/Shutterstock

The 1971 metropolitan plan identified open-space corridors for waterways including the Yarra. Land began to be acquired to build this green network and the trail systems that connect it. Victoria became known as the “Garden State” in the 1970s.

This period stands out as the city’s second great wave of visionary planning and investment. It created the wonderful legacy of a world-class network of open space, much of it around waterways and Port Phillip Bay.

Where to today?

Sustaining or improving urban liveability is a massive challenge. It calls for a new vision and a commitment by governments to deliver it over many decades. Do we have policies and institutions capable of doing this?

Rather than “shaping” our cities, many state institutions are dominated by cost and efficiency goals that drive a “city servicing” mindset.

Melbourne, for instance, is in danger of exhausting the legacy of the last “city shaping” phase of visionary planning and investment. This all but ended in the 1980s.

By 1992, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works had been abolished. It once had responsibility for town planning, parks, waterways and floodplain management as well as water and sewerage services. It used the Metropolitan Improvement Fund (raised from city-wide property levies) to plan and deliver the city’s green infrastructure, including land acquisitions.

Where is the equivalent capability today? Our practitioners have the knowledge, skills and understanding to better plan for complex city needs, but this is not enough to shape a better future for coming generations. Without a vision and effective policies and institutions to deliver it, we risk ad hoc and wasteful decision-making and investment. The result will be poorer community well-being and less economic prosperity.




Read more:
City planning suffers growth pains of Australia’s population boom


The entrenched cost-efficiency or “city servicing” mindset is an all-too-narrow and short-term policy setting in an era of unprecedented urban population growth.

Expanding suburban fringes will lack amenity and a healthy environment, which may entrench disadvantage. Existing suburbs also need to improve quality, access and connectivity of public open space.

Green streetscapes, open space and tree cover are important for amenity. This includes countering urban heat in a warming climate. Co-ordinated investment in green infrastructure can also unlock new economic opportunities for our cities.

But, as the past has shown, little will happen without an effective city-shaping capability. Significant policy and institutional reforms, guided by a new vision, are essential to ensure a healthy environment, community well-being and the liveability and prosperity of our cities for decades to come.

The ConversationAlternatively, we may find ourselves tumbling down the ranks of world’s most liveable cities. Our best and brightest will be drawn to greener pastures while the world asks in astonishment, “How did they let that happen?”

Chris Chesterfield, Director Strategic Engagement, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate Change: Trees Using Less Water


The links below are to articles reporting on how trees are using less water as a response to climate change.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0711-forests-water-co2.html
http://inhabitat.com/trees-are-adapting-to-climate-change-by-using-water-more-efficiently/

USA: Climate Change Rooftop Farmers


The link below is to an article on climate change in the USA and how urban dwellers are planting rooftop gardens in response.

For more visit:
http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/02/23/urbanites-combat-climate-change-with-rooftop-farms/

Australia Responding to Climate Change?


The link below is to an article that looks at Australia’s response to climate change.

For more visit:
http://www.rtcc.org/business/bangkok-2012-%e2%80%93-is-australia-about-to-come-out-of-the-cold-on-climate-change/