Researcher spotlight: Ben French

Images: Rummin Productions

Ben French is a 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 is directly relevant to end-users. His previous research has focused on 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 Buttongrass moorlands.

Ben's PhD is focused on the relationship between fire and herbivory, and he plans to run a number of experiments in Tasmania to explore:

  • How herbivore pressure varies with the spatial and temporal pattern of burning.
  • Which burning practices promote native species.
  • How fire and herbivory affect high-priority tree species in alpine and lowland Tasmania, and
  • Effective post-fire restoration practices for an iconic alpine conifer; the Pencil Pine.

In native grassland remnants of the Tasmanian Midlands, Ben will be working with a private landholder and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre to implement a series of patch burns. During these patch burns, he will monitor herbivore and vegetation responses using cameras, scat surveys and vegetation quadrats, as well as undertaking targeted studies of Eucalypt recruitment.

I have engaged closely with public and private land managers in planning these projects in the hope that my research will help sculpt burning practices to ecological advantage and inform a best practice methodology for restoring an important paleoendemic.

In alpine vegetation in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Ben will be assessing herbivore responses to burning and will trial restoration plantings of Pencil Pine, assessing the importance of herbivore protection, topography, propagation methods and genetic provenance for planting success.

Ben was recently awarded a prestigious Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship.

Exploring the Future of Fuel Loads in Tasmania, Australia: Shifts in Vegetation in Response to Changing Fire Weather, Productivity, and Fire Frequency (2018)

Harris, RMB, Remenyi, T, Fox-Hughes, P, Love, P & Bindoff, NL

The human dimension of fire regimes on Earth (2011)

David MJS Bowman, Jennifer Balch, Paulo Artaxo, William J Bond, Mark A Cochrane, Carla M D’antonio, Ruth DeFries, Fay H Johnston, Jon E Keeley, Meg A Krawchuk, Christian A Kull, Michelle Mack, Max A Moritz, Stephen Pyne, Christopher I Roos, Andrew C Scott, Navjot S Sodhi, Thomas W Swetnam

Fire in the Earth system (2009)

David MJS Bowman, Jennifer K Balch, Paulo Artaxo, William J Bond, Jean M Carlson, Mark A Cochrane, Carla M D’Antonio, Ruth S DeFries, John C Doyle, Sandy P Harrison, Fay H Johnston, Jon E Keeley, Meg A Krawchuk, Christian A Kull, J Brad Marston, Max A Moritz, I Colin Prentice, Christopher I Roos, Andrew C Scott, Thomas W Swetnam, Guido R Van Der Werf, Stephen J Pyne