Hunting with Fire May Benefit Australia's Small Mammals
Photo: Rebecca Bliege Bird
When species start disappearing, it usually makes sense to blame it on the arrival of humans. But in the case of Western Australia's declining small-mammal populations, the opposite may be true.
The Aboriginal Martu people of Western Australia have traditionally set small fires while foraging, leaving a patchwork landscape that proves a perfect environment for bilbies, wallabies, possums and other threatened mammals.
Stanford anthropologists have discovered that when these controlled burns cease, the desert rapidly becomes overgrown – and a single lightning strike can send wildfires tearing through hundreds of square miles of tinder-dry mammal habitat.
The paper, authored by Stanford anthropology Associate Professor Rebecca Bliege Bird, senior research scientist Douglas Bird, postdoctoral scholar Brian Codding, and undergraduate Peter Kauhanen, appeared recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Douglas Bird and Brian Codding coordinate the Comparative Wests project at the Bill Lane Center for the American West.