Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

The Fire-Stick Farming Hypothesis

See Indigenous knowledge combines with Western science to look after country

 For a long time burning by Australian Aboriginal people has been believed to be a strategy for managing food resources, though this hypothesis has never been tested by quantitative analysis. In this paper the authors combine contemporary ethnographic observations of Aboriginal hunting and burning with analysis of satellite images of anthropogenic and natural landscape structure to demonstrate the processes by which the vegetational diversity of the arid-zone is shaped by Aboriginal burning. A greater diversity of successional stages is contained in anthropogenic landscapes than under a lightning fire regime, differences being in scale rather than kind. According to the authors the scale of the landscape is linked directly to foraging for small prey that burrows, such as monitor lizards, which is a specialty of Aboriginal women. Small animal hunting productivity is increased by the maintenance of small-scale habitat mosaics. There are implication of these results for understanding the unique biodiversity of the Australian continent, through time and space. Anthropogenic influences on the habitat structure of palaeolandscapes, in particular, are likely to be localised spatially and linked to less mobile, “broad-spectrum” foraging economies.  

Sources & Further reading

  1. Bird, R. Bliege, D. W. Bird, B. F. Codding, C. H. Parker, and J. H. Jones. "The "Fire Stick Farming" Hypothesis: Australian Aboriginal Foraging Strategies, Biodiversity, and Anthropogenic Fire Mosaics." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105, no. 39 (2008): 14796-801.
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 06/01/2020
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