Gunak, Gapalg Dja Gungod ('Fire, floodplain and paperbark') : a study of fire behaviour in the Melaleuca-floodplain communities of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
In the past fire ecology literature in the tropics has focused
mostly on the role of fire within the savanna biome. The fire ecology of
tropical wetlands has been largely neglected. This thesis attempts to
redress this imbalance by examining the fire behaviour of the wetlands
in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia.
Wetland burning has become a critical management issue in
the Park, particularly since the eradication of the feral Asian water
buffalo (Bubalus bubalis Linnaeus) from the Park. Fuel loads, which
had been previously suppressed by grazing and trampling, have
increased substantially, and this has subsequently affected the fire
ecology of the region.
This thesis investigates aspects of fire ecology in the Mclaleucafloodplain
communities of Kakadu. It examines Aboriginal people's
contemporary use and knowledge of fire, as well as the fire behaviour
and impact of fires both set by Aboriginal people and from other
sources of ignition. In addition, a 'Wetland Burning Index' (WBI) is
compiled in order to examine some of the interactions between wetland
fuel, weather and fire behaviour. A range of ecological and ethnoecological
methodologies are employed in order to measure fire
behaviour in situ rather than approximating specific fire regimes under
experimental conditions. The thesis assesses the effectiveness and
practicability of these methods.
A description of wetland fire behaviour is also given, and
includes a range of fire types and phenomena. Aboriginal names of
fires, and related terms, are also detailed (in the Gundjeihmi language),
some of which have not been previously documented. The study
concludes by discussing how indigenous people's knowledge of fire can
contribute to the field of wetland fire ecology. It also discusses how
different fire types can be used to manage tropical wetland ecosystems.