Australia has experienced its worst bushfire season on record. It is estimated that 800 million animals have been lost in NSW alone – with the national toll now believed to have exceeded the one billion mark.
Fires have always played an integral role in shaping Australia’s unique landscape. As a result, much of our flora and fauna have evolved to cope with the positive and negative impacts that fires bring. But this season’s unprecedented ferocity and size is testing our ecosystem’s ability to survive and bounce back.
In the days just after a fire, surviving animals are at a much higher risk of predation from invasive species such as foxes and feral cats. For instance, researchers have found that feral cats will leave their home ranges to scour recently burnt areas in search of vulnerable prey. It is believed that this is because of the lack of vegetation which leaves survivors with very few places to hide.
The effects of the bushfires are predicted to have a long-term impact on the survival of many species. The significant loss of habitat will take a long time to regenerate and develop. Not only will this impact natural food and water sources, but it will also affect species who depend on tree hollows, leaf litter and other natural features for shelter.
But in saying all of this, there is hope. New technology is enabling bushfire recovery efforts to be rapidly implemented. Manned aircraft have already been used to facilitate food drops for endangered Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies and drones have been used to search areas for injured and surviving wildlife. Drones are also being used by the Australian Defence Force to detect new fires and remotely survey damages to infrastructure.
The recent Australian bushfires have had a devastating impact on our environment. But while it may take a long time before our precious ecosystems are completely restored, it is hoped that new technology will be able to aid in its recovery and help mitigate the risk of future fires.