Tales from the Territory: Fires, storms, land use change and north Australian savanna

Ecosystems of north Australia are shaped by the Australian monsoon and the intensely seasonal climate. Savanna is the prevalent vegetation type, with evergreen species dominant, anomalous to other savanna regions of the world. Deciduous species are present, but paradoxically their abundance decreases with aridity and distance inland. This vegetation clearly has a unique functional ecology that enables survival given climatic extremes, frequent fire and the ancient, nutrient poor soils. The talk will provide an overview of this environment in terms of productivity and water use given the climate, soils and disturbance regime. Potential impacts from climate change and land use change will also be covered.

Prof Hutley has research interests in tropical savannas and how vegetation has adapted to the physical environment imposed by a wet-dry tropical climate as experienced in northern Australia. She works on carbon and water cycling in tropical and temperate Eucalypt dominated ecosystems and in particular the impact of fire, grazing and weed invasion on these processes. Work on carbon dynamics and fire is incorporated into climate models that attempt to describe feedbacks between landscape process and climate change.