A new fire history for south-western Australian sclerophyll forests was proposed recently based on grasstree (Xanthorrhoea preissii ) records that were interpreted to show a high frequency (3-5 years) 'pre-European burning regime'. Such a fire regime appears incompatible with the long-term survival of many fire-killed woody taxa. We investigated the local fire history in a small area of the northern sand-plain shrub-lands of south-western Australia using 15 grasstrees, examining individual grasstree records in detail and comparing this with the decadal or averaged approach used in the original research, and with fire histories reconstructed from satellite images for the period since 1975. Results lead us to question the utility of the proposed grasstree fire history record as a tool for understanding past fire regimes for two reasons: First, inconsistencies in fire histories among individual grasstrees were considerable - some individuals were not burnt by known fires, while some apparently were burned many times during periods when others were not burned at all. Second, the grasstree record indicates a possible increase in patchiness of fires since 1930, while contemporary evidence and interpretations of the nature of Aboriginal (pre-European) fire regimes would suggest the opposite. We believe that further research is needed to identify to what extent the grasstree method for reconstruction of fire histories can be used to re-interpret how fire operated in many highly diverse ecosystems prior to European settlement of Australia.
Enright, N. J., Lamont, B. B., & Miller, B. (2005). Anomalies in grasstree fire history reconstructions for south-western Australian vegetation. Austral Ecology, 30(6), 668-673. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-9993.2005.01509.x