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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 14(4), March - May 2006

President's Report

Judy West
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, CSIRO Plant Industry

In mid February the National Committee of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation held a planning day addressing a number of matters to assist in developing the Network's future directions. The diversity of skills and experiences of our new committee became evident throughout the discussions, contributing to a very successful day with interchange of ideas stimulating some lateral thinking and resulting in considerable progress. The major point of consideration was the update and development of the strategic vision for ANPC. This document is travelling through a number of iterations, but we anticipate the draft strategic plan will be made available to ANPC members for your input and comment in the next couple of months. It will be of no surprise to those familiar with ANPC activities that one of the main themes underpinning the strategic thinking is ANPC's role in fostering two-way interchange of information between researchers and conservation practitioners. I feel encouraged by the active participation of the committee members and I'm sure the organisation will benefit from this investment in some dedicated strategic planning.

In this edition of Australasian Plant Conservation we focus on the theme of fire and conservation, with contributions ranging from the science of burning to the practicalities of using fire for conservation in small urban remnants. The issue opens with a plea for consideration of season and intensity when planning fire regimes (Clarke, Knox and Williams).  Encouragingly, projects are underway across Australia to scientifically test the effectiveness of different styles of 'burning for biodiversity'. In the Top End, Andersen and co-workers describe an ambitious project to foster understanding of the effects of fire regimes on biodiversity in savanna landscapes. For forests in the Walpole area of south-west WA, Burrows introduces a study about fine-grained fire mosaics in regard to biodiversity and the reduction of severe wildfires. On the other side of the continent, Hammill and Bradstock describe a landscape-scale study of plant diversity, fire and climate in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

The article by Conroy and co-workers about the Hotspots Fire Project epitomises what ANPC is all about  - 'translating science into a practical management framework for land managers and regional communities'. This project involves research, training and education on use of fire in managing biodiversity while at the same time preserving lifestyles.

Research in particular ecosystems is leading to specific management recommendations about fire. For Cumberland Plain Woodland in Western Sydney, Watson and Morris predict that variable fire intervals will maintain much of the landscape, and keep fuel loads compatible with property protection. Wong and co-authors consider fire as an alternative management tool to grazing in the native grassland of northern Victoria. For a bush remnant in outer suburban Melbourne, Coates reports on the practical experience of applying and monitoring fire for management of plants and animals.

Fire affects animals and fungi as well as plants. Robinson describes recent research on forest macrofungi indicating that a mosaic of fire ages and intensities maximises fungal diversity.

Four articles focus on fire and its effects on individual plant species - in New South Wales, Ficus rubiginosa (Cameron) and Haloragis exalata (Miles and Cameron), In New Zealand, Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides (Ledgard and David), and in Victoria, Pimelea spinescens subsp. spinescens (Thomas).

The final two articles on the fire theme present contrasting views for (Jurskis) and against (Schultz) frequent burning.

The articles on fire in this issue show that whilst fire is still a topical issue, there is a promising amount of research underway providing a scientific underpinning to 'burning for biodiversity', and at the same time land managers are accumulating practical experience in the use of fire for conservation that can usefully inform the research.