Tropical Savannas CRC > Education & Training > PhD projects 2001-2007 > Landcape ecology and fire management

TS-CRC Student project - Fire Management in Queensland’s North-west Highlands: A Landscape Ecology Approach

James Cook University

Leasie Felderhof

Introduction | Objectives | Supervisors |


This project was initiated by the Tropical Savannas CRC in response to a request for assistance by Ergon Energy after wildfires caused power outages in their high voltage transmission line in the Carpentaria Mineral Province. Ergon Energy wishes to develop a fire risk prediction model and identify appropriate vegetation management strategies for their 411 km easement. They wish to minimise the risk of fire-induced outages and meet power supply agreements with two major mines (Ernest Henry and Century Zinc), as well as fulfil policies relating to sound environmental management. The practice of maintaining ‘bare earth’ under power lines is no longer deemed sustainable, so fire induced outages are considered to be an emerging problem. This applied research issue needs to be placed in a broader landscape context to address this concern.

The published research on fire ecology of the North-west Highlands Bioregion (Sattler and Williams 1999) appears to be limited to a plant species list for Lawn Hill National Park and observations on the response of different plant species to a single fire (Williams, Ball et al. 2002). Studies on fire in acacia/spinifex dominated communities have been conducted elsewhere (Noble 1989; Griffin 1990; Noble and Vines 1993; Craig 1999; Allan and Southgate 2002), and may provide insight, however their direct applicability to the vegetation dynamics in north-west Queensland needs to be tested. Climate, specific vegetation types, landscapes and land use patterns differ, so variation in fire occurrence and vegetation response is expected.

Species composition and community structure reflect the fire regime : the frequency, intensity, season, type and extent of fires over time (Gill 1977; Whelan 1995; Smith, Craig et al. 1999). The frequency, season and extent of fires over time can be determined using remote sensing (Russell-Smith, Ryan et al. 1997; Edwards, Hauser et al. 2001), but fire intensity requires details on species characteristics, fuel load and fire behaviour (Cheney and Sullivan 1997). General relationships between fire behaviour and environmental conditions have been established, but there are disparities between different vegetation types and regions, resulting in specific guidelines being prepared for some areas (Griffin 1984; Burrows, Ward et al. 1991; Marsden-Smedley 1993). No fire regime or fire behaviour studies have been conducted in north-west Queensland, there is no information on fuel load accumulation rates for acacia/spinifex communities, or the specific outcomes of different fire behaviour on these communities. Therefore, the aim of this project is to identify the key determinants of the fire regime in north-west Queensland and investigate how different fire regimes affect acacia/spinifex communities.


The research objectives are:

  • To describe the regional fire history (1998-2003) and identify how climate and landscape features affect fire regimes at the macro scale;
  • To investigate the response of vegetation at sites with different fire histories;
  • To quantify fuel load accumulation over time;
  • To determine the burning characteristics of different fuel types;
  • To investigate variation in fire behaviour in relation to local conditions; and
  • To investigate options for transferring site based information across scales using remote sensing.


Principal Supervisors: Prof. David Gillieson (JCU);
Dr. Garry Cook (CSIRO)

Associate Supervisors: Dr. John Ludwig (CSIRO);
Dr. Jeremy Russell-Smith (Northern Territory Bushfires Council)


Dr Leasie Felderhof
Firescape Science P/L
Tel: 07 4091 1289

Fax: 07 4091 1289

PO Box 158