Restoring habitat for fire-impacted species’ across degraded Australian landscapes

Michelle Ward, Ayesha Tulloch, Romola Stewart, Hugh P. Possingham, Sarah Legge, Rachael V. Gallagher, Erin M. Graham, Darren Southwell, David Keith, Kingsley Dixon, Chuanji Yong, Josie Carwardine, Tim Cronin, April E. Reside, James E.M. Watson

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    Abstract

    In the summer of 2019-2020, southern Australia experienced the largest fires on record, detrimentally impacting the habitat of native species, many of which were already threatened by past and current anthropogenic land use. A large-scale restoration effort to improve degraded species habitat would provide fire-affected species with the chance to recover and persist in burnt and unburnt habitat. To facilitate this, decision-makers require information on priority species needs for restoration intervention, the suite of potential restoration interventions, and the priority locations for applying these interventions. We prioritize actions in areas where restoration would most likely provide cost-effective benefits to priority species (defined by each species proportion of habitat burned, threat status, and vulnerability to fires), by integrating current and future species habitat suitability maps with spatially modelled costs of restoration interventions such as replanting, removing invasive species, and implementing ecologically appropriate fire management. We show that restoring the top ∼69% (112 million hectares) of the study region (current and future distributions of priority species) accounts for, on average, 95% of current and future habitat for every priority species and costs ∼AUD$73 billion yr−1 (AUD$650 hectare−1 yr−1) annualized over 30 years. This effort would include restoration actions over 6 million hectares of fire-impacted habitat, costing ∼AUD$8.8 billion/year. Large scale restoration efforts are often costly but can have significant societal co-benefits beyond biodiversity conservation. We also show that up to 291 MtCO2 (∼150 Mt DM) of carbon could be sequestered by restoration efforts, resulting in approximately AUD$253 million yr−1 in carbon market revenue if all carbon was remunerated. Our approach highlights the scale, costs, and benefits of targeted restoration activities both inside and outside of the immediate bushfire footprint over vast areas of different land tenures.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number084036
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
    Volume17
    Issue number8
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

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