The "fire stick farming" hypothesis: Australian Aboriginal foraging strategies, biodiversity, and anthropogenic fire mosaics

R. Bliege Bird, D. W. Bird, B. F. Codding, C. H. Parker, J. H. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

230 Scopus citations

Abstract

Aboriginal burning in Australia has long been assumed to be a "resource management" strategy, but no quantitative tests of this hypothesis have ever been conducted. We combine ethnographic observations of contemporary Aboriginal hunting and burning with satellite image analysis of anthropogenic and natural landscape structure to demonstrate the processes through which Aboriginal burning shapes arid-zone vegetational diversity. Anthropogenic landscapes contain a greater diversity of successional stages than landscapes under a lightning fire regime, and differences are of scale, not of kind. Landscape scale is directly linked to foraging for small, burrowed prey (monitor lizards), which is a specialty of Aboriginal women. The maintenance of small-scale habitat mosaics increases small-animal hunting productivity. These results have implications for understanding the unique biodiversity of the Australian continent, through time and space. In particular, anthropogenic influences on the habitat structure of paleolandscapes are likely to be spatially localized and linked to less mobile, broad-spectrum" foraging economies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14796-14801
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume105
Issue number39
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 30 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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