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Prevent Rare Plant Extinction and Reduce Impacts of Future Fires

The San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Plant Conservation Team are working with Australian Partners to prevent rare plant extinction and reduce impacts of future fires in eastern Australia.

The Conservation Problem: The unprecedented extent of 2019/20 fires in eastern Australia remained active for several months before finally being extinguished by heavy rainfall. A number of federally listed and rare but unlisted plant species (and their habitats) may have suffered in the fires. A range of factors will determine the ability of these plant species to recover after the fires, including plant life form and architecture, fire severity, time to next fire, ongoing drought, along with impacts of post-fire grazing by native and feral animals and stock, weeds and pathogens. Developing strategies to help protect the threatened species at risk from fires in the near future is essential for recovery of the threatened species. In early 2020, the Federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee developed a 10-point plan that outlines post-fire recovery steps, which was endorsed by The Minister for Environment on 2 March 2020.

Scope: Working with Australian partners, the SDZG Plant Conservation team has provided funding to support the plant conservation actions aligned with the recommendations of the Federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee for Post-fire Recovery to: 1) Prevent extinction and limit decline of native species and ecosystems affected by the 2019-20 fires, and 2) Reduce impacts from future fires.

Specifically, partners will identify the narrow-range endemics and priority threatened plant species most sensitive to having recovery disrupted by repeated fires in the near future. Field inspections will quantify recovery and identify threats that need amelioration. Seed and/or vegetative germplasm will be collected and established at regional botanic gardens. Working with experts, land managers, indigenous consultants, and fire management authorities, we will assess fire regimes and impacted plant species, and develop a document ‘Fire Regimes That Cause Biodiversity Decline’ and web tools designed to provide guidance on recovery actions and build the resilience of biota to future fires.

With funding support, local research scientists and contractual field scientists will conduct on the ground assessments that can inform the habitat-specific guidance plan. Promotional materials and web-based interactive tools will be created to guide community thinking and actions in post-fire landscape management. Draft strategies for at least 10 species will be developed to protect species from future fires and other threats during their sensitive recovery phases. SDZG personnel will participate in discussions remotely and review strategy documents designed to reduce species’ extinction risk especially in face of future fires.