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Environ Manage. 2008 Apr;41(4):501-15. Epub 2007 Sep 9.

Monitoring contrasting land management in the savanna landscapes of northern Australia.

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School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, 0909, Australia.


We compared measures of ecosystem state across six adjacent land-tenure groups in the intact tropical savanna landscapes of northern Australia. Tenure groups include two managed by Aboriginal owners, two national parks, a cluster of pastoral leases, and a military training area. This information is of relevance to the debate about the role of indigenous lands in the Australian conservation estate. The timing and frequency of fire was determined by satellite imagery; the biomass and composition of the herb-layer and the abundance of large feral herbivores by field surveys; and weediness by analysis of a Herbarium database. European tenures varied greatly in fire frequencies but were consistently burnt earlier in the dry season than the two Aboriginal tenures, the latter having intermediate fire frequencies. Weeds were more frequent in the European tenures, whilst feral animals were most abundant in the Aboriginal tenures. This variation strongly implies a signature of current management and/or recent environmental history. We identify indices suitable for monitoring of management outcomes in an extensive and sparsely populated landscape. Aboriginal land offers a unique opportunity for the conservation of biodiversity through the maintenance of traditional fire regimes. However, without financial support, traditional practices may prove unsustainable both economically and because exotic weeds and feral animals will alter fire regimes. An additional return on investment in Aboriginal land management is likely to be improved livelihoods and health outcomes for these disadvantaged communities.

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