ASC and Desert Ecology


See the post ‘Fire Impact’

One of my goals of reconnxpedition2012 is to contribute to the ecological knowledge base of the Simpson Desert, particularly after the significant bushfires of late 2011 and early 2012.

I am delighted to team with the US based Adventurers & Scientists For Conservation (ASC) and Sydney University’s Institute of Wildlife Research.

ASC’s primary initiative is to facilitate partnerships between adventure athletes & explorers and the researchers who need them to collect data all around the world.

Professor Chris Dickman has constructed a project for me whilst I walk across the desert from west to east.

Chris writes;

Simpson Desert ground-truthing project

Wildfires burn large tracts of the Simpson Desert every few years and lead to highly damaging effects on native wildlife. The fires remove shelter for native animals, thus exposing them to predation from invasive cats and foxes. If reliable fire maps are available, this makes it possible to predict where future fires are most likely to occur and also to manage the effects of invasive predators before they have been able to inflict damage on native animals. At present, satellite imagery can give a rough idea of the spatial distribution of fires, but imagery often confuses open habitats (e.g. claypans, open dune tops) unless it is ground-truthed. We have completed some ground-truthing in the north-eastern part of the Simpson Desert following intense fires in early 2012, but has not been able to extend mapping to the desert’s interior regions. The participation of Adventure Science will be invaluable in contributing to the ground-truthing of a large region of the Simpson Desert that is generally not very accessible, and thus in helping with the future management of a very large part of arid Australia.

Andrew will be able to assist enormously by doing two things while on his route through the desert: 1) recording GPS points at any and all boundaries between burnt and unburnt vegetation, and boundaries between different habitats (the main habitats would be clay pans, open plains, spinifex grassland, gidgee or other woodland, dune crests); 2) photographing each boundary where a GPS point is taken. For example, when he crosses a boundary between burnt and unburnt spinifex grassland, a GPS point would be taken at the boundary and a photograph taken at the same point looking along that boundary. This would allow us retrospectively to confirm that the boundary was between burnt and unburnt spinifex (or claypan and woodland, dune crest and dune side etc). 

We will use the data to compile detailed and reliable fire maps for the Simpson Desert. Although Andrew’s route will cover just part of the desert’s central interior, the data collected will allow ground-truthing that should allow much broader and reliable interpolation of fire extent from satellite mapping. The maps should in turn allow us to identify habitats or other features that provide refuge for native fauna during wildfires, predict where future fires will occur (recently burnt habitats will usually not burn again for 25 years), and allow management efforts to be allocated more strategically than is possible at present. Fire maps will be published in the scientific literature and also provided to conservation managers in the Simpson Desert region.

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