Biogeography and Ecology of Fire – GEOG30025


The subject field site: Cradle Mountain over Dove Lake, Tasmania, Australia

Biogeography and Ecology of Fire – GEOG30025 – is a subject offered at the University of Melbourne.



Fire is one of the most important controls over the distribution of vegetation on Earth. This subject examines the role of fire in natural systems, with a particular emphasis on the importance of fire in determining global vegetation patterns and dynamics over long periods of time.

The aim of this subject is to understand how terrestrial systems have evolved to cope with and exploit fire, and to place the extreme flammability Australia’s vegetation within a global context. The subject will examine concepts such as resilience, positive feedback loops, hysteresis and alternative stable states. The use of fire by humans to manipulate environments will be examined, with a particular emphasis on the variety of approaches employed by people across a diversity of environments over long periods of time, allowing an exploration of the social and cultural dynamics of fire and environmental management. A mid-semester field excursion in Tasmania will visit a number of sites which will exemplify the subject themes.

The practical exercises leading up to the field trip will focus on how to gather fire-related ecological data. The practical exercises following the field trip will be devoted to processing, analysing, interpreting and reporting on the field data. At the end of the subject, students will have gained an understanding of the way in which fire has shaped natural systems, as well as acquiring the skills necessary to formulate and test hypotheses.

**2014 – Student Evaluation Survey Responses (grading out of 5)**

Question                                                                                    Result
Overall, this subject has been intellectually stimulating        4.6/5
Overall, this subject has been well-taught                               4.6/5
I have learnt new ideas, approaches and/or skills                  4.8/5
I have learnt to apply knowledge to practice                           4.9/5
I have been part of a group committed to learning                 4.5/5

Specific comments:
“The field work was engaging and a key part of the learning for the subject, and the content covered, especially by the guest lecturers from different fields, was interesting and meshed well with the practical side.”

“The field trip was good as it provided an opportunity to put theory into practice. The lectures and guest lectures were also quite stimulating. The quizzes were also good, as they provided incentive to do the readings, and gave an indication of the key factors to take away from each reading.”

“Michael’s enthusiasm in teaching this subject was really refreshing and inspiring. Previously, I had always not enjoyed the natural sciences and had found them difficult – Michael however helped us learn at our own pace, both in learning the theory and then applying it to real scenarios.”


Why such sharp boundaries? We will investigate why there is such a sharp transition between rain forest and grassland in the Vale of Belvoir, Tasmania, Australia.

Vale of Belvoir even-aged stand

Is this forest expending or contracting? We will investigate the dynamics of forest stands like this to determine whether they have been expanding or contracting since European settlement and the change in land management from indigenous to European.


We will use techniques like dendrochronology (pictured here), palaeoecology, soil nutrient analysis, seed bank germination and fuel quantification to investigate the role of fire in shaping landscapes.

More photos of the 2014 GEOG30025 Field Trip.


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