Rapid assessment of the biodiversity impacts of the 2019–2020 Australian megafires to guide urgent management intervention and recovery and lessons for other regions

Legge, Sarah, Woinarski, John C.Z., Scheele, Ben C., Garnett, Stephen T., Lintermans, Mark, Nimmo, Dale G., Whiterod, Nick S., Southwell, Darren M., Ehmke, Glenn, Buchan, Anne, Gray, Jenny, Metcalfe, Dan J., Page, Manda, Rumpff, Libby, van Leeuwen, Stephen, Williams, Dick, Ahyong, Shane T., Chapple, David G., Cowan, Mitch, Hossain, Md Anwar, Kennard, Mark, Macdonald, Stewart, Moore, Harry, Marsh, Jessica, McCormack, Robert B., Michael, Damian, Mitchell, Nicola, Newell, David, Raadik, Tarmo A., and Tingley, Reid (2022) Rapid assessment of the biodiversity impacts of the 2019–2020 Australian megafires to guide urgent management intervention and recovery and lessons for other regions. Diversity and Distributions, 28. pp. 571-591.

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Aim: The incidence of major fires is increasing globally, creating extraordinary challenges for governments, managers and conservation scientists. In 2019–2020, Australia experienced precedent-setting fires that burned over several months, affecting seven states and territories and causing massive biodiversity loss. Whilst the fires were still burning, the Australian Government convened a biodiversity Expert Panel to guide its bushfire response. A pressing need was to target emergency investment and management to reduce the chance of extinctions and maximise the chances of longer-term recovery. We describe the approach taken to rapidly prioritise fire-affected animal species. We use the experience to consider the organisational and data requirements for evidence-based responses to future ecological disasters.

Location: Forested biomes of subtropical and temperate Australia, with lessons for other regions.

Methods: We developed assessment frameworks to screen fire-affected species based on their pre-fire conservation status, the proportion of their distribution overlapping with fires, and their behavioural/ecological traits relating to fire vulnerability. Using formal and informal networks of scientists, government and non-government staff and managers, we collated expert input and data from multiple sources, undertook the analyses, and completed the assessments in 3 weeks for vertebrates and 8 weeks for invertebrates.

Results: The assessments prioritised 92 vertebrate and 213 invertebrate species for urgent management response; another 147 invertebrate species were placed on a watchlist requiring further information.

Conclusions: The priority species lists helped focus government and non-government investment, management and research effort, and communication to the public. Using multiple expert networks allowed the assessments to be completed rapidly using the best information available. However, the assessments highlighted substantial gaps in data availability and access, deficiencies in statutory threatened species listings, and the need for capacity-building across the conservation science and management sectors. We outline a flexible template for using evidence effectively in emergency responses for future ecological disasters.

Item ID: 70551
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1472-4642
Keywords: ecological disturbance, emergency response, fire impacts, fire management, megafire, rapid assessment, wildfire
Copyright Information: © 2021 The Authors. Diversity and Distributions published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2022 02:14
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 70%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410405 Environmental rehabilitation and restoration @ 30%
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