Aboriginal Burning Regimes and Hunting Strategies in Australia’s Western Desert

Abstract

A large complement of Australia’s biotic web is dependent on a regular regime of burning, much of which is the result of firing by humans. Many researchers have suggested that moderate and repeated burning by Aborigines is a tool designed to enhance hunting efficiency. We present the first test of this with data on contemporary Martu Aboriginal burning and hunting strategies in the arid spinifex savanna of the Western Desert during the cool-dry season (May–August). Our results show a strong positive effect of mosaic burning on the efficiency of hunting burrowed prey (primarily conducted by women), but not larger mobile prey (primarily conducted by men). We suggest that regular anthropogenic disturbance through burning in Australia’s Western Desert may be important for sustaining biodiversity and habitat mosaics, but these effects may be maintained primarily by women’s hunting of burrowed game. We discuss the implications of these results for understanding variability in hunting strategies, issues of conservation, and land management policy for the region.

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Bird, D.W., Bird, R.B. & Parker, C.H. Aboriginal Burning Regimes and Hunting Strategies in Australia’s Western Desert. Hum Ecol 33, 443–464 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-005-5155-0

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Keywords

  • Martu Aborigines
  • habitat mosaics
  • burning strategies
  • women’s hunting
  • Australia