Charles Darwin University
Northern Australia is one of the most bushfire-prone places on Earth. In coastal regions, such as around Darwin, the bush typically burns every 2 to 3 years. These extremely high bushfire frequencies affect many aspects of northern Australian ecosystems, including the variety of plant and animal species found, vegetation structure, and carbon and nutrient cycling. For example, increases in the frequency, size and intensity of bushfires following the widespread breakdown of Indigenous fire management are driving severe declines in a range of small mammals, birds, trees and shrubs.
Dr Murphy’s research focuses on how to best manage bushfires in northern Australia’s vast uncleared landscapes, to meet a range of objectives, particularly conservation of native plants and animals, but also the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from bushfires. The foremost bushfire management tool in northern Australia is prescribed burning, deliberately lighting bushfires under mild fire weather conditions, and whether it can prevent subsequent high-intensity unplanned fires – ‘fighting fire with fire’. Prescribed burning, and whether it can effectively reduce wildfire impacts on plants and animals, is controversial, and much of his research is focused on evaluating its effectiveness. This research underpins the ecologically and economically sustainable management of northern Australia.