Bushfire Research and Development Group
BIRD: linking the biodiversity community
The University of Melbourne Bushfire Research and Development Group is primarily based at the Creswick campus, Victoria, with research conducted at field sites in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. (More detail here.) It forms a part of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a Commonwealth-funded collaborative venture involving fire and land management agencies, eight universities, CSIRO, and a range of other interested bodies in Australia and New Zealand.
Bushfire CRC research
Within the Bushfire CRC at the University of Melbourne, research projects focus around three main areas. The first, led by Dr Alan York , studies the effect of fire on the maintenance of biodiversity and associated ecosystem processes, and form part of the Bushfire CRC Project B3.1 Effects of Fire on Ecosystem Processes and Biodiversity. With a team consisting of Dr Tina Bell and Dr Fiona Christie, this project investigates the changes in biodiversity and ecosystem function with fire. The work aims to understand the interaction between fire, vegetation, invertebrates and soil organisms in carbon and nutrient cycling, and how this contributes to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem function. This assists in determining the ecological sustainability of current fire management practices.
Dr Tina Bell leads the second project which investigates the composition of smoke produced by prescribed fires and bushfires. Tina's project is part of the Bushfire CRC project B2.2 Effects of Smoke on Ecosystem Health and Ecosystems, which she also heads up. This project will utilise new and existing techniques to measure the contribution of fire to classical pollutants, particularly those affecting human health. The impact of smoke on human health is being investigated by conducting surveys of community perceptions of the occurrence and nuisance value of smoke from prescribed burning. This research is being conducted by Rachel Tham, Master of Health Science. In addition, greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming, are documented.
Dr Kevin Tolhurst leads the third research project; Bushfire Risk Management, which is part of the Bushfire CRC project A4.1 Fire Management Business Model. This project's main objective is to develop a risk management decision support system for communities living in the rural-urban interface, town planners, power supply companies, fire fighters and land managers. To achieve this, risk management requires modelling the probability of a bushfire and the potential consequences to the environment, economy and society. Costs in terms of losses to tourism, commercial and private assets, infrastructure damage to power lines and roads, reduced timber and water quality, and quantity and health effects, must all be factored into the model. By providing a bushfire risk management model, the health and safety of the community is improved, and fire fighting techniques and decision-making are more effective.
Department of Sustainability and Environment research
The DSE projects are classified under three broad topics; Technical Transfer and Development, Biodiversity Studies, and Fire Management Issues. Technical Transfer and Development incorporates training courses on fire, providing specialist support at fires and DSE's Fire Ecology Working Group. Expertise is provided by Dr Kevin Tolhurst, Dr Alan York, Dr Tina Bell, Greg McCarthy, Julian DiStefano and Amanda Ashton.
Biodiversity Studies revolves around the effects of fire on threatened species and communities, and also encompasses the ecological effects of fire retardants on the flora and fauna. Currently the main focus of our biodiversity studies is the Casterton Biodiversity Project, looking at the long term effects of current fuel reduction burning regimes on a wide range of flora and fauna. This research is conducted by Dr Alan York, Dr Tina Bell, Helen Doherty, Amanda Ashton, Catherine Nield and Cara Reece.
Fire Management Issues include characterization of fuel loads, fuel dynamics, fire behaviour and the ecological responses to fire. These will culminate in the development of "burning guides" to assist in fire fighting and determining prescribed burning regimes.