New paper! Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland

Published in: International Journal of Wildland Fire

New paper led by Elise Verhoeven who did this research as part of an undergraduate internship at the University of Technology Sydney. Well done Elise on your first paper!


Assessing wildfire regimes and their environmental drivers is critical for effective land management and conservation. We used Landsat imagery to describe the wildfire regime of the north-eastern Simpson Desert (Australia) between 1972 and 2014, and to quantify the relationship between wildfire extent and rainfall. Wildfires occurred in 15 of the 42 years, but only 27% of the study region experienced multiple wildfires. A wildfire in 1975 burned 43% of the region and is the largest on record for the area. More recently, a large wildfire in 2011 reburned areas that had not burned since 1975 (47% of the 2011 wildfire), as well as new areas that had no record of wildfires (25% of the 2011 wildfire). The mean minimum wildfire return interval was 27 years, comparable with other spinifex-dominated grasslands, and the mean time since last wildfire was 21 years. Spinifex-dominated vegetation burned most frequently and over the largest area. Extreme annual rainfall events (> 93rd percentile) effectively predicted large wildfires occurring 2 years after those events. Extreme rainfall is predicted to increase in magnitude and frequency across central Australia, which could alter wildfire regimes and have unpredictable and far-reaching effects on ecosystems in the region’s arid landscapes.

Working in the Simpson Desert, Qld, after a wildfire came through the study region in 2011, which burnt 21% (2233 km2) of the study region. Photo: Aaron Greenville

Reference: Verhoeven E. M., Murray B. R., Dickman C. R., Wardle G. M. & Greenville A. C. (2020) Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland. Int. J. Wildland Fire,

About Aaron Greenville

I'm an Ecologist investigating how ecosystems respond to climate change and the introduction of exotic species.
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