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Cross-Cultural Monitoring of a Cultural Keystone Species Informs Revival of Indigenous Burning of Country in South-Eastern Australia


Globally, Indigenous cultural burning has been practiced for millennia, although colonization limited Indigenous people’s ability to access and manage their ancestral lands. Recently, recognition of Indigenous fire management has been increasing, leading to the re-emergence of cultural burning in Australia, the Americas, parts of Asia and Africa. We describe how the Banbai people of south-eastern Australia have reintroduced cultural burning at Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area. Our team of Banbai Rangers and non-Indigenous scientists conducted cross-cultural research to investigate the impact of burning on a cultural keystone species, the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Our comparison of the effects of a low-intensity, patchy, cultural fire in the Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area to a nearby higher intensity fire in Warra National Park through a Before-After-Control-Impact assessment indicated that the higher intensity fire reduced echidna foraging activity, possibly to avoid predation. Most importantly, we describe a cross-cultural research model whereby Indigenous rangers and non-Indigenous scientists work together to inform adaptive natural and cultural resource management. Such trans-disciplinary and collaborative research strengthens informed conservation decision-making and the social-ecological resilience of communities.

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We would like to acknowledge the Banbai Nation and all Indigenous people, past, present and future, who have cared for and shared their knowledge of Country and culture. Thanks for technical support provided by Ian Simpson and Catherine MacGregor and advice on the draft paper from Gemma Morrow, Peter Croft and anonymous reviewers. Approvals: University of New England Human Ethics approval HE14-182; Scientific Licence (SL101661) issued under National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW).


This study was funded by University of New England, Firesticks Project, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services through the National Landcare Program, Rural Fire Service Association & Rural Fire Service NSW.

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Correspondence to Michelle B. McKemey.

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Semi-structured interview questions

  • Please tell me your name and role here at Wattleridge IPA?

  • What fire management practices do you use and how did you learn them?

  • Are you able to use traditional Aboriginal burning techniques? If not, why not?

  • How can fire be used to manage culturally important animals and plants?

  • Why is the echidna important to you?

  • What did you observe when we were monitoring the echidna?

  • What have you noticed since?

  • What do these results mean to you?

  • How do you think fire affected the echidna?

  • Do you think we should burn more or less for the echidna?

  • What type of burning is best for the echidna? No burning, low intensity burning or moderate intensity burning?

  • How will you use these results when you are managing the IPA?

  • Would you like to continue to monitor important animals and plants in this way?

  • What do you think we could have done better?

  • Would you like to do more or less work like this? Why?

  • What other plants, animals and management practices would you like to monitor?

  • Have you learned anything from this monitoring? If so, what?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you say you have learned?

  • Do you think you could continue to do this monitoring yourself?

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McKemey, M.B., Patterson, M.(., Rangers, B. et al. Cross-Cultural Monitoring of a Cultural Keystone Species Informs Revival of Indigenous Burning of Country in South-Eastern Australia. Hum Ecol 47, 893–904 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-019-00120-9

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  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Indigenous fire management
  • Protected area management
  • Cultural keystone species
  • Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
  • The Banbai Aboriginal Nation
  • South-eastern Australia