SYDNEY – Repopulating certain environments with large wild herbivorous animals can help reduce the impact of wildfires in a world becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change, according to a statement released on Wednesday by the University of Tasmania.
“We’re seeing an increase in the impact of fire in many parts of the world. The main reason for this is climate change, but the evidence shows that loss of wild herbivores is also very important,” said Christopher Johnson, one of the lead authors of the study.
The research, “Trophic rewilding – consequences for ecosystems under global change,” was carried out by the Royal Society of London and the UT, with contributions from researchers from other parts of the world, defends the practices of repopulating natural habitats with herbivores.
“Putting back big animals that are responsible for stabilising ecosystems and sustaining biodiversity lets the animals themselves do the repair work on ecological processes, especially in ecosystems that have been degraded by past extinctions of species,” Johnson explained.
The study recalled that the fire seasons are increasingly becoming extreme in places like California, in the United States, or the Mediterranean, where large herbivores that helped reduce a large number of plants have disappeared.
This disappearance has contributed to the accumulation of more combustible material that causes fires, according to the UT statement.
“It’s clear that areas grazed intensely by large animals, such as kangaroos or maybe even deer in Tasmania, can function as quite effective fire breaks,” Johnson said.
“Rewilding potentially offers a powerful tool for managing the risks of wildfire and its impacts on natural and human values,” he added.
However, grazing animals are not always effective, as is the case with cattle that increase the likelihood of fires in the Australian Alps, “possibly by changing fuel arrays in favor of flammable woody shrubs that can encroach on grasslands,” the study explained.