published on 3 January 2020 in ecosystems
Australian wildfires, figures and consequences
Wildfires are continuing in Australia, and the worst hit states are Queensland and New South Wales. According to estimates, from September to date, around 487.7 million animals, including birds, reptiles and mammals (invertebrates are not counted) are thought to have died. The fires have burnt over five million hectares in five states, including the ancient forests in New South Wales, causing emissions of around 250 million tons of CO2. Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), the animal chosen as the emblem of Australia, is one of the species most affected. In fact, in New South Wales, it is thought that approximately eight thousand koalas have died, almost a third of the population of the state. Koalas are particularly vulnerable to fires because they move slowly and live in eucalyptus trees, which are highly flammable.
Outbreaks and propagation of wildfires are favoured by unusually high temperatures. The highest temperatures ever have been recorded in Australia over the past few weeks, with an average of 41.9°C. Even rainforests, eucalyptus forests, swamps and banana plantations, which in normal conditions would not burn because they are too humid, have been assailed by this anomalous surge of fires.
When the fires have been put out it will be possible to conduct more accurate field research to gain a more detailed picture of the ecological consequences of the fires.