Assistant dean (Indigenous); associate professor of geography, University of Melbourne
Michael-Shawn Fletcher is an associate professor of geography and assistant dean (Indigenous) at the University of Melbourne. He recently gave invited testimony to Australia's Royal Commission investigating last summer's mega-fires. His research has focused on using palaeoenvironmental records from across the Southern Hemisphere to illuminate the long-term interactions between humans, climate, disturbance and vegetation at local, regional and global scales. In a paper published this year, Fletcher used pollen, charcoal and dendrochronological analyses to demonstrate that the Australian landscape at the time of British invasion in the 18th century was a heavily constructed one—the product of millennia of active maintenance by Aboriginal Australians. His results reveal how the removal of Indigenous burning regimes following British invasion instigated a process of ecological succession and the encroachment of cool temperate rainforest into grasslands of conservation significance. This empirical evidence challenges the long-standing portrayal of Indigenous Australians as low-impact 'hunter-gatherers' and highlights the relevance and critical value of Indigenous fire management in this era of heightened bushfire risk and biodiversity loss.
Michael-Shawn is speaking at
Watch the prerecorded talks for this session beginning on Oct. 13. (Video embargoed until 4:00 p.m. ET 10/20/20.) Then submit your questions for the speakers, and tune in here on Oct. 20 to watch answers from Williamson and Shawn-Fletcher and to hear live from Michelle Ward in Brisbane and Merritt Turetsky in Boulder. (Whova mobile app users, look for the YouTube link in the session description.)
This past summer, nearly 100,000 square kilometers of land went up in flames in the Australian bushfires—a fire event larger than any in the past 10,000 years on that continent. The devastation released some 400 million tons of CO2, killed perhaps a billion animals, and damaged many Aboriginal Australian communities.
Then in June, as temperatures soared into triple digits north of the Arctic Circle, fires swept through the taiga and tundra of Siberia and within a month surpassed the record-setting summer of 2019, raising concerns that already vulnerable peatlands and permafrost could be lost. A continuation of this trend could have dire consequences for Arctic ecosystems and some Indigenous communities, as well as worrisome climate impacts.
In this session, two Aboriginal Australian scientists and a wildlife ecologist who has done extensive surveys of the burned area will present new results from their research on the paleohistoric significance of this year's bushfires, the misguided logging and forest-management practices that fueled the fires, the far-reaching damage the mega-fires wreaked on wildlife habitats, and ways that Aboriginal cultural land-management practices should be brought back to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Then the director of the University of Colorado's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research will update us on the fire situation in Siberia, Alaska, and Canada and her research on how forest fires are interacting with climate change and Arctic warming, permafrost, peatlands, and taiga and tundra ecology in ways that threaten Alaska Native and First Nations peoples and the ecosystems on which they—and all of us—depend.
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