Introduction to Australian Bushfires
Australian Wildfires, also called Bush Fires are common in the Australian Landscape. In fact, there is a ‘fire season’ every year. However, since September of 2019, these Bushfires have increased in severity and intensity and have not been able to be controlled. This has resulted in a massive loss of wildlife including mammals, birds, reptiles and insects; it has been estimated that more than a billion animals have died so far.
Causes of Australian Bushfires
Forest fires occur in the dry seasons when the leaves and wood are dry enough and are burnt by lightning strikes or by accidental sparks caused due to friction. They may also be deliberately started by humans.
If bush fires are a common occurrence in Australia almost every year, what happened this time? There are two important factors to consider: First, many regions in Australia including South Eastern Australia suffered from a severe drought during the past year and second, the average temperatures reached up to 41̊C. These two factors made the region very susceptible to fires this time around.
Fighting the Australian Bushfires
It is not easy to fight these fires, especially considering the size of bushfires. They are fought either using water sprays by pipes or by throwing fire retardants from above, through planes.
However, the speed at which the forest fires travel, it is difficult to dowse the fires. Instead, the is to contain the fires and not letting them spread further. This is done by digging trenches. People have also resorted to strategies that include watering buildings and houses so that they do not burn.
Loss of wildlife
Australia has unique flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. The Bushfires have burnt approximately 21 million acres of land so far.
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Animals suffer from burns, starvation, predation and dehydration caused by the fires. Already around 700 species of animals are listed as threatened in Australia and the fires will push more species towards that category.
More than 35000 Koalas and 25000 Kangaroos have reportedly died due to the fires. The other species at risk include the Glossy black-cockatoo, Indigenous Kangaroo Island Dunnart etc. Flying animals such as bats, cannot really escape the fires, because they are slow flyers as compared the fast-spreading bush fires. Wombats live in complex underground tunnels. It has been reported that species like wallabies and echidnas have sought shelter in these tunnels to escape from the fires. Even if some animals have survived the fires, there has been a massive loss of their habitat and their future is questionable.
Many rare trees species are also at risk including the endangered Nightcap oak and Peach Myrtle.
Other Effects of Australian Bushfires
The huge amount of ash generated is likely to end up in the water bodies. This will increase the nutrient availability in the water and cause species like algae to grow uncontrollably.
The amount of CO2 released due to the burning would only add to climate stress.
The long term effects of the fires on animals are diverse and have not been studied yet. The Mountain Pygmy-possum prey on Bogong Moth that migrates to the Possum region every year from hundreds of kilometres up north. Recent climate changes and human activities have resulted in a decrease in the number of moths and this has a severe consequence on the possum. Several other animals have complex relations with each other and are interdependent. Loss of one species in the bush fires could affect another species not harmed by the fires due to the existence of such relationships
Repopulation of Wildlife
Usually, after a bushfire, the burnt region would get repopulated by wildlife moving in from nearby unharmed regions. However, this time due to the large scale of the damage it is likely to take a very long time for recovery. Some of the indigenous species may even be extinct.
Only a large amount of rain can dowse the fires completely, but that is likely to take a few months. Over the past decades, the temperatures in Australia and all around the globe have been rising alarmingly. It is foreseeable that such fires will continue to take place.
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Saunri Dhodi Lobo is pursuing M.Sc in Life Sciences with specialization in Neurobiology. Her interests include writing poetry, going for nature walks and swimming. Currently she is involved in research on Alzheimer’s Disease in fruit flies.
Read all Articles by Saunri Dhodi Lobo