Climate, landscape diversity, and food sovereignty in arid Australia: The firestick farming hypothesis

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17 Scopus citations


Objective: Climate change has long been recognized as a significant driver of dietary diversity and dietary quality. An often overlooked aspect of climate change are shifts in fire regimes, which have the potential to drastically affect landscape diversity, species distributions, and ultimately, human diets. Here, we investigate whether the fire regimes shaped by Indigenous Australians change landscape diversity in ways that improve dietary quality, considering both the diversity and the quantity of traditional foods in the diet. Methods: We use structural equation modeling to explore two causal models of dietary quality, one focused on the direct effects of climate change and resource depression, the other incorporating the dietary effects of landscape diversity, itself a product of fire-created patchiness. We draw on a focal camp dataset covering 10 years of observations of Martu foraging income in the Western Desert of Australia. Results: We find strong support for the hypothesis that fire-created patchiness improves diet quality. Climate change (cumulative 2-year rainfall) has only an indirect effect on dietary quality; the availability of traditional foods is mediated primarily through the landscape diversity shaped by fire. Conclusions: Our model suggests that the loss of the indigenous fire mosaic may lead to worsening availability of traditional foods, measured as both caloric intake and diet diversity. Because the effects of rainfall are mediated through landscape diversity, increased rainfall may not compensate for the recent changes in fire regimes resulting from the loss of Aboriginal fire from the landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23527
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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