School of Natural Sciences
University of Tasmania
Ben is a commencing PhD student at the University of Tasmania with a background in both fire ecology and public land management. He is fascinated by the intersection of people and nature and particularly interested in landscape-scale research that directly informs land management practice and policy.
For his PhD, Ben is undertaking real world experiments in lowland and alpine Tasmania to understand how fire and herbivory (the major top-down controls on vegetation) are related, and how these processes affect tree recruitment.
A central aim in fire ecology is to determine patterns of burning that reconcile risk mitigation and biodiversity goals, and re-coupling fire and herbivory may help achieve this. The Pyric-Herbivory hypothesis, developed in North America, posits that fire and herbivory are inextricably linked, because grazers target nutritious post-burn shoots, reducing fuel and repeat fire, until attracted to more freshly burnt areas. These processes may be instrumental in maintaining fine-scale diversity in Australian vegetation (given the abundance of fire and herbivores and the historic prevalence of Aboriginal burning) with important implications for plants that are disadvantaged by intense herbivory, such as palatable tree seedlings.
Ben is working closely with managers of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and private land in the Tasmanian Midlands, in the hope that his research will help sculpt management practices to ecological advantage. He will also develop a best practice methodology for post-fire restoration of Pencil Pines; an iconic paleoendemic conifer.
Prior to his PhD, Ben has studied the drivers of flammability in plant and organic soil fuels, dendroecology in Australia and the United States and the feedbacks between fire, vegetation and soil in Tasmanian Buttongrass moorlands.