Reptiles prefer to live in places aboriginal people have burned
© John Sullivan/iNaturalist.org
The presence of humans rarely improves the lives of neighboring species. Yet a study shows that indigenous Australian hunters create prime habitat for a desert-dwelling lizard.
“It’s simply not the case that human activity always has a negative impact on ecological circumstances,” says ecological anthropologist Doug Bird of Stanford University.
The Martu, an aboriginal people in Western Australia, wield fire to hunt the lizard Varanus gouldii, known as sand goannas. In winter and spring, the Martu burn patches of brush to expose the lizards’ dens. Then people dig out the prey and roast the half-kilogram morsels over a coal fire.
The frequent burning creates a patchy mosaic of charred lands and vegetation springing up in various stages of regrowth. Unlike lightning-triggered fires that can wipe out large swaths of vegetation, the small human-lit fires promote a diverse collection of habitats. For example, fruit-bearing plants that