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QUAVIDA - Fire, Vegetation and Climate Change in Australasia

International Synergies
Synergies and Resource Base
Progress in Palaeodata Syntheses
QUAVIDA Resources


QUAVIDA is a working group of the ARC-NZ Network for Vegetation Function and QUEST. It's aim is to understand the interactions among vegetation structure and function, climate and fire regime during the Late Quaternary in Australasia.


The past 70,000 years (70 ka) has seen major environmental changes in Australasia, including alternations of exceptionally wet and exceptionally dry periods and large variations in temperature and atmospheric CO2. Human occupation has also been a substantial influence. Much of Australian vegetation is extremely fire-prone (and fire-adapted), and fire management has been long and widely practised. Understanding future fire regimes in a changing climate is important for the region, and will be facilitated by analyses based on modelling and observations of past climates and environments.

Climate, fire regime, and vegetation structure interact, with one another and with human activities. The purpose of this working group is to better understand these interactions, by bringing together expertise in three rapidly progressing fields:

  • Palaeoclimatic and palaeoecological reconstructions
    A growing body of pollen and plant macrofossil assemblages from well time-resolved, 14C-dated sediments has allowed the construction of evidence-based biome maps for key times in the past. Abundant data (e.g. charcoal records) document past changes in fire regimes, and several independent palaeoclimate data sources have been developed.
  • Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs)
    Recent work with the Lund-Potsdam-Jena (LPJ) and Sheffield DGVMs has represented the major interactions between vegetation structure and the spread and intensity of fire, including the influences of climate and human populations. The models have been tested against fire data derived from ground observations and remote sensing.
  • Palaeoclimate modelling
    Major improvements in our understanding of how planetary-scale variations (e.g. in the Earth's orbit, interacting with the northern ice sheets, sea ice, and atmospheric CO2 content) have shaped global and regional climatic patterns during the Late Quaternary have arisen from advances in coupled climate modelling at a global scale, combined with syntheses of the data on past environments.



This proposal assumes synergy with several activities that have already started. Quaternary palaeoclimate modelling and data synthesis projects in QUEST and the tri-national ORMEN project will include global climate and coupled climate-vegetation simulations for key periods during the past 125 ka (although QUEST and ORMEN analyses of these simulations will centre on the northern extratropics). Comparable simulations, with multiple models, are underway in Phase II of the international Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project (PMIP). The IGBP Fast Track Initiative on Fire (website) is planning a working group in global reconstruction and modelling of fire regimes. Syntheses of palaeoecological data are proceeding for different regions, e.g. the Pan-Arctic Initiative (PAIN). The proposed network will develop a comparable data synthesis for Australasia, engaging regional expertise, with data base support provided by projects based at the BRIDGE group in Bristol. The syntheses carried out by the proposed working group will provide underpinning data on ecological, fire and climate dynamics to help in understanding the spatial and temporal patterns of human disturbance, the focus of the INQUA project on "The Great Arc of Human Disturbance".




Syntheses of palaeoecological data have been taxon-based or (recently) used a coarse biome classification. This working group will develop an improved, functional approach based on plant morphological traits, such as plant height and form, leaf size and toughness, resprouting ability, wood anatomy, bark characteristics etc. with particular emphasis on traits conferring either adaptation or aversion to fire. Independent approaches including modelling will be used to construct best estimates of palaeoclimates (and human populations where applicable), and vegetation functional shifts will be compared with fire-DGVM simulations driven by these estimates. As all of the approaches are relatively new and the models not perfected, the approach will be iterative, with improved understanding informing further DGVM development


  • An improved functional classification of Australasian plants based on traits indicating relationships to climate and fire. This classification will be used in mapping palaeodata, and will also form the basis for improvements to the plant functional type classification used in DGVMs
  • Multi-proxy maps showing millennial-scale changes in vegetation distribution and fire regime for Australasia for ca the last 70,000 years.
  • An overview paper describing the reconstructed changes in vegetation distribution and fire regime. (This could be accompanied by a special issue of e.g. Quaternary International, comprising papers describing individual data sources and vegetation history of specific regions)
  • A sequence of "time slice" simulations with the fire-enabled version of the LPJ DGVM, showing the response of fire regime and vegetation to simulated changes in climate
  • A paper comparing the simulated and observed changes in fire regimes and vegetation patterns, and focusing on elucidating the mechanisms underlying observed millennial-scale changes and the degree to which state-of-the-art models predict observed changes in a reliable way
  • A "summary for policy makers", including material produced by this working group, of the state of knowledge as regards the interactions among vegetation structure and function, climate, fire and human activities; and the implications for predicting future changes in fire regimes in the region.


The working group will bring together scientists from several disciplines. This working-mode has been successfully employed to develop synthetic palaeoenvironmental data sets and data-model comparisons for other regions. Four workshops (4 days each) are proposed, entitled "Fire, Vegetation and Climate Change in Australasia", to be held over a two-year period:

  • Workshop 1: 20-23 February 2007, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
    Aim: to review the status of palaeoenvironmental records and databases
    Meeting Report
    Postmeeting work commitments (members only)
    Provisional PFT scheme and PFT to biome scheme (members only)
  • Workshop 2: 16-19 July 2007, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
    Aim: to produce a new trait-based classification of Australasian plants and determine a working list of plant functional types to be used in subsequent analysis.
    Meeting Report
    Allocating taxa to PFTs
    PFTs - draft allocations
    PFT to biomes
  • Workshop 3: 21-25 July 2008, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
    Aim: to focus on reconstructing changing vegetation patterns and fire regimes.
    Working Agenda:
    • Day 1: Present and discuss biomisation outputs, outline of proposed reconstruction paper, identification of areas with conjunctions of other data sources where refinement of interpretations might be possible
    • Day 2: Workshop on interpretation of modern pollen rain and surface sample studies. Aim to devise rules for interpretation in a format that might be incorporated formally in reconstructions
    • Day 3: Writing sections of proposed paper
    • Day 4: Present and discuss model runs, comparison with reconstructions; writing continued
    • Day 5: Planning next model runs and next steps in data analysis, identifying requirements for next meeting in the context for next set of products
  • Workshop 4
    Aim: to compare reconstructed and simulated patterns of vegetation and fire, and assess the implications.


Sandy Harrison
Expertise: palaeodata synthesis, palaeoclimate modeling, data-model comparisons
Role: Co-coordinator, liaison with international projects including PMIP, PAIN

QUAVIDA group photo

John Dodson
Expertise: Australian palaeovegetation records, palaeoecology
Role: Co-coordinator, liaison with INQUA

David Bowman
Expertise: ecology, biogeography, isotopic data on past vegetation
Role: Fire-rainforest relationships

Ross Bradstock
Expertise: fire ecology and fire traits
Role: PFT classification

Josephine Brown
Expertise: climate modelling
Role: coupled climate-vegetation modelling

Rebecca Fraser
Expertise: isotopes
Role: creation of terrestrial carbon-isotopes database as part of QUEST-Deglaciation project

Pauline Grierson
Expertise: fire ecology, carbon cycle, vegetation modelling, isotopes
Role: Fire ecology, link to Bushfires CRC

Geoff Hope
Expertise: Palaeovegetation and palaeoenvironmental records
Role: responsibility for synthesis of palaeo-records from PNG, Indonesia

QUAVIDA group photo

Scott Mooney
Expertise: palaeofire records
Role: E-SS, synthesis of charcoal records of palaeofires, liaison with IGBP Fire FTI

Rewi Newnham
Expertise: NZ palaeoenvironments
Role: ES-S, Synthesis of New Zealand palaeodata

Stuart Pearson
Expertise: plant macrofossils from stickrat middens and palaeovegetation
Role: ES-S, synthesis of stickrat data

Colin Prentice
Expertise: vegetation modeling, carbon cycle
Role: liaison with QUEST and the Earth System Atlas

Cassandra Rowe
Expertise: palaeoenvironmental data, databases
Role: Research Assistant linking BRIDGE, QUEST and QUAVIDA

Fiona Scarff
Expertise: ecology, plant functional traits and fire modelling
Role: E-SS, plant trait-fire relationships

Lynley Wallis
Expertise: archaeology, phytoliths and vegetation reconstruction
Role: ES-S, synthesis of phytolith data

Janet Wilmshurst
Expertise: pollen and vegetation reconstruction
Role: synthesis of NZ pollen data

Yan Zhao
Expertise: palaeoclimate modelling and analysis
Role: Research Assistant linking BRIDGE, QUEST and QUAVIDA



The working group will make use of (and extend) existing pollen databases for the region, specifically the BIOME 6000 SEAPAC database, South-Eastern Australian Pollen Database, and INDOPAC Pollen Database. It will capitalise on the database of charcoal records from Australasia being created as part of the IGBP Fire Fast-Track- Initiative. Support for new database construction e.g. for stickrats, phytoliths) will be provided by BRIDGE (Bristol). Climate simulations will be obtained from the QUEST and ORMEN projects. DGVM simulations will be run as part of recently funded EU project (FIRE-PARADOX).