The Martu people use a technique known as fire-stick farming, lighting small fires to flush animals from the grass to make them easier to hunt. The technique creates a heterogeneous mosaic of regrowth that enhances the habitat by offering a range of different microhabitats and stimulating plant growth. It also reduces the intensity and spread of lightning fires.
The study’s authors found that the population of monitor lizards was nearly double in the areas in which hunting had taken place compared to unhunted areas. The authors suggest that the study provides insights into the co-evolution of animals and humans, and the maintenance of animal communities through ecosystem engineering. It also provides evidence that links the decline and extinction of numerous desert species to the loss of traditional economies and social structures of Aboriginal communities during the middle of the 20th century.
‘Our results show that humans can have positive impacts on other species without the need for policies of conservation and resource management,’ said one of the study’s authors, Rebecca Bird. ‘In the case of indigenous communities, the everyday practice of subsistence might be just as effective at maintaining biodiversity as the activities of other organisms.’
This story was published in the December 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine