The rains that have fallen on the south of Australia have been given a respite to the bodies of firefighters who carried on fighting for months against a few fires that have already ravaged more than 10 million hectares, killed 28 people and 1,000 million animals, according to preliminary data. The fires, which are already the most severe in living memory in Oceania in terms of area burned, threatening the biodiversity of a country in which 80% of its fauna is endemic. Brendan Wintle, professor and ecologist, a conservationist from the University of Melbourne, warning of the enormous work that lies ahead to prevent further dying more animals.
Question. is The rain forecast in the south and southeast of the country could lead to problems?
Response. Yes, a heavy rainfall after a fire can actually cause a lot of damage. It's great to have rain because that turns off the fire. But the sediments that flow into the water can change its chemical balance and introduce toxins. Processes are very harmful.
Q. do you Think that the estimate of 1,000 million animals killed in the fire is correct?
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A. The scientists who gave this information made it very clear that it was a rough estimate. As we explore more, we can see with more detail the impact and know exactly how many animals and plants have been lost. Until now, all we can do is to estimate using statistics are approximate as presented by professor Dickman. I think the number will not be exactly correct. But it is a first indication of reasonable opportunity to understand the extent of the damage. This calculation takes into account only the vertebrates; millions of insects that have died in the fire.
Q. can produce more animal deaths in the next few months? Or do flowers, when they lose their pollinators also die?
A. Yes. There will be many animals who will not have food. The ecosystem will be changed dramatically. Many animals may have escaped the fire, but if they have lost their habitat, will go to another forest where they will try to settle. The problem is that this forest is already full of other animals that keep them from doing so and end up dying. That's why I think that the attempt to reduce the estimate of professor Dickman may not be right, since those who manage to escape, often also die. Now, the emergency is to find out where there are places that need to be monitored. There are many small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are highly threatened by invasive predators such as cats and foxes. These species are now more vulnerable to these predators, because the vegetation that usually housed has been reduced or disappeared.
Q. can You recover what has been burnt in these fires? How much time do you need?
A. The priority is to find out where we put all our effort to ensure that there are no extinctions. You have to ensure that the populations that are still alive can resist other pressures to which they are subjected, either by the loss of habitat, predation, or by competition with other invasive species. It is a huge task to try to recover the wild life after a mass disaster such as this. It will take years. You may not recover some ecosystems. There are forests that have been burned two or three times in the last 10 or 15 years, it can transform. Maybe even, you have to get rid of some herbivores invaders such as camels, goats or rabbits, animals that actually threaten the native species.
Q. Where they will focus the task of recovery?
A. The action areas will be the areas burned, but we must also act in the parts adjacent, and even in regions that have been away from the footprint of the fires, where there are species such as the petauros giants, places that we need to make sure that we protect. Maybe it will give them extra protection special fire or monitor the predators of the area. Maybe even, you have to get rid of some herbivores invaders such as camels, goats or rabbits, animals that actually threaten the native species.
Q. What are the animals most affected by the forest fires? What animal you more concerned about?
A. we are Still waiting for the scientific evaluation of what is the total damage. Only in the State of Victoria [in the south of the country, whose capital is Melbourne], we believe that there are about 185 species of plants and animals that have lost about half of its area of distribution. There are a few species of particular conservation interest, such as the wallabí of the tail brush of the rocks [a type of kangaroo], or the Potoroo long-legged, who have lost a large part of its population. But, as I said, you have to wait for the scientists to analyse which has been the real damage caused by the fire, something that will be done in the coming weeks and months.
Q. You sent an open letter to the prime minister along with other 247 scientists in October, where he alerted that Australia lost 17 species over the next 20 years, what the Government Is doing enough to save the wildlife?
A. there is No doubt that the number of species that are now closer to the extinction is higher than it was before. If you are only in Victoria there are 185 species that have lost more than 50% of their habitat, that says to me that the extinction risk will increase substantially for these animals and plants. It is worth noting that the Government has announced a package of help for the animal life affected by the fires [31 million euros announced last week]. In the coming months, we will see which is the best way to use this money.
Q. does seem to be enough of those 31 million?
A. I would Not like to say whether it is sufficient or not, more is always better. But I think that is a good start.
Q. Australia has a long history with forest fires, how have the flora here a better capacity for recovery than in other parts of the world?
A. Yes, I think that it is true that, in comparison with other ecosystems in other parts of the world that are not so well adapted to fire, our environments and our ecosystems recover relatively well from whats fire. However, if fires occur with too much frequency and intensity, may cause long-term damage and can even cause the extinction of species.
Q. is There any type of vegetation that will see benefited by the fire?
A. There are many species that are well-adapted to fire. Many types of eucalyptus, of banksia [native plant of Australia] to regenerate after a fire and, depending on the ecosystem, they need to have fires every five, 10 or 20 years to regenerate and compete with other species. For the banksia, for example, the cycle is between 10 and 15 years. While for the eucalyptus, the cycle ranges between 20 and 50 years. However, the problem is that if there are fires too often, for example, every year or two, the vegetation that has grown has not yet reached sexual maturity. Therefore, when you do not have the seeds cannot regenerate after the fire. These plants, in that case, they will eventually disappear if fires occur too frequently.
Q. And what about animals that benefit from fire?
A. There are animals that are doing well after a fire, because they can return months later, after it has rained, and you will find a lot of grass and young plants to eat. Kangaroos, for example, are animals that can do so. However, most species will do very well. When the fires are so massive and so high temperatures in large parts of the landscape, almost all animals and plants die. If the entire habitat is burned, the animals and plants from other areas that have remained unburned, not recolonizarán those sites, which will end up causing wildlife to disappear from those environments.
Q. Then, is it true that the eucalyptus burns more than other species?
A. Has a oil is quite flammable in the leaves which exudes in the hot days. That is one of the reasons why these forests are burned so quickly and with a few flames at such high temperatures. The eucalyptus trees may even require that you have fire, as after the fire, the seed of the tree falling on the bed of ashes, and from there it grows.
Q. how These wildfires are a direct result of climate change?
A. Always there are many factors that influence and most of the scientists hesitate to draw a line of causation between climate change and any natural disaster individual of this scale. But, of course, I believe that we must recognize that the predictions for the future they say that the climate will be warmer and dry for the greater part of the australian continent. These are the ingredients of the fire. There is a high probability that the climate change contributes to more disasters like this in the near future for Australia.
Q. what Australia is like the bird in the mine of the world? What happen first the problems here after, will also affect the rest?
A. Is an interesting idea. It is possible that other countries begin to experience catastrophic fires, events like those that occurred here. But we also have an environment that is quite prone to fire. We've always had large fires, not necessarily of this size, but very harmful. But the size of these fires, yes it's fair to say, unprecedented. If other countries become more dry and warm you might experience more fires depending on their natural habitats. In other countries it is difficult to predict the weather, now that maybe the lack of moisture and the heating does not necessarily have to lead to more fires, but that can lead to greater dryness, which means less fuel for fires. And, in fact, that may be the end result in some parts of Australia.Updated Date: 19 January 2020, 00:00