Australia/Brazil Collaboration Leads to PhD Research Project

  • 2015•07•30

    Photo - EugêniaThe exchange of fire knowledge between Australia and Brazil is strengthening with new PhD research comparing fire management strategies and experience across the two countries.

    Eugenia Kelly, a PhD candidate of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, will soon arrive at Charles Darwin University to complete a year of her research in northern Australia.

    The research project follows from the ongoing collaboration resulting from a 2014 learning exchange in which a group of Brazilian government officials were taken on a fire management learning exchange to the North of Australia.  The exchange was hosted by UNU and supported through GIZ’s project ‘Prevention, control and management of fire in the cerrado”.

    In her own words, Eugenia describes her interest in Australia’s fire management experience.

    I study the fire risk, regime and fuel accumulation in the Canastra National Park, Brazil. Moreover, I intend to do a comparative analysis of management in Conservation Units of Brazilian Cerrado and the adaptive fire management in Australian savannas. 

    During my undergraduate studies I contributed on a voluntary basis to several projects of Plant Population and Community Ecology in Cerrado and Atlantic Forest. In 2009 I decided to study an interesting plant community in the floodplain of Cipó river, located in Serra do Cipó National Park, Brazil. Historical records indicate the presence of woody vegetation covering the area, but for a long time until the National Park creation it was strongly managed with frequent burning to agro-pastoral purposes. My goal was to study the possible successional pathways in this area after the end of human activities. To the extent that the research was evolving I realized that the area had probably been changed enough to move towards a stable alternative state, controlled by fire regime and flooding cycle of Cipó river. Presenting the results of this research in 2011, I received an MSc in Ecology from the Federal University of Minas Gerais.  

    What caught my attention in this experience was the expressive influence of fire in determining the structure and composition of plant communities. My interest in this subject led me to several readings about the effects of fire in Cerrado vegetation, which made me very concerned about the future of this biome. In Brazil, fire management is generally based on the suppression of fire occurrences, which favours the accumulation of fine fuel material, such as grasses during the rainy period. This accumulated material becomes highly flammable during the dry winter promoting even more severe fires. On the other hand, in Australia’s Northern Territory, adaptive fire management has been practised for years with satisfactory results. In this sense, the exchange of ideas and experiences between Brazilian and Australian researchers may encourage discussions on new methodologies, identify research gaps and lead to significant contributions to fire management in Brazilian Cerrado. Taking into account the importance of this research partnership, I am going to develop part of my thesis in Charles Darwin University, where I found a team of experts with extensive knowhow on the subject, who have accepted this challenge.”