Fire in New Zealand ecosystems

Understanding increased fire frequencies following human settlement as a novel driver in New Zealand ecosystems

Besides being essential for heating and cooking, fire has always and everywhere been the primary tool for clearing unwanted vegetation. Prehuman New Zealand was one of the few regions on the globe where natural fire played an insignificant role.

Our native trees and shrubs are, with few exceptions, highly vulnerable to fire and only a very limited range of native plants (e.g. manuka, matagouri, bracken and tussock) are favoured by repeated burning.

The widespread burning that accompanied the first settlers in the 13th century was therefore devastating. Much of what had been a largely forest-covered land was transformed into a patchwork of scrub, grassland and forest.

The fire-driven deforestation of New Zealand was unparalleled for its speed and completeness. Our research interest centres on explaining how and why it happened, and what the implications are for how we manage our post-fire landscapes. Globally, fire is now recognised as one of the major drivers of landscape and vegetation change and there is intense interest in understanding its fundamental dynamics.

Key contact

Contact Janet Wilmshurst Janet Wilmshurst
Contact Matt McGlone Matt McGlone

Key collaborators

George Perry (University of Auckland); Dave McWethy (Montana State University); Cathy Whitlock (Montana State University)

Funders

Landcare Research Core Research Funding