Postgraduate Profiles

Hannah Etchells

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Thesis: Impacts of catastrophic wildfire on the interactions among regenerating vegetation, fungi and small foraging marsupials in southwest Australia

My research focuses on the catastrophic wildfire that occurred near Northcliffe in 2015, investigating post-fire ecological interactions among regenerating vegetation, fungi and native mammals in the karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) forest mosaic of the Warren Bioregion of southwest Western Australia.

Why my research is important

Catastrophic wildfires have increased in occurrence in southern Australia in recent decades. These fire events, often of unprecedented extent and severity, have impacted extensive tracts of ecologically and commercially valuable forest, with likely exceptional and often detrimental effects on ecosystem functioning. The occurrence of extreme fire events, like the “Black Saturday” wildfires in southeast Australia in 2009, is projected to increase in frequency over the next century. While both wild and managed fires are recognised as key drivers of ecological processes and biodiversity in southern Australia, severe fires are likely to affect ecological interactions across taxonomic and trophic groups, which in turn can lead to shifts in ecosystem functioning. However, there are critical gaps in understanding the long-term ecological impacts of extreme fire events, in part due to their previously rare occurrence. For example, there is very little knowledge regarding how forests may regenerate, whether they could lead to shifts in community composition, or what the direct and indirect impacts will be on fauna, including ground-dwelling marsupials. My project seeks to address these critical gaps and seeks to develop understanding of how notionally fire-adapted ecosystems respond to severe wildfire.

Funding

Moderately burnt karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) forest two years post fire

Feb 2017

Feb 2020

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