Social and Ecological Dimensions of Urban Conservation Grasslands and Their Management through Prescribed Burning and Woody Vegetation Removal
Natural grasslands are threatened globally. In south-eastern Australia, remnants of critically endangered natural grasslands are increasingly being isolated in urban areas. Urbanisation has led to reduced fire frequency and woody plant encroachment in some patches. Grasslands are currently being managed under the assumption that desirable management actions to address these threats (prescribed burning and removing woody vegetation) (1) lead to improved conservation outcomes and (2) are
... nd (2) are restricted by negative public attitudes. In this study, we tested these two assumptions in the context of native grassland conservation reserves in Melbourne, Australia. Firstly, we investigated differences in species and functional trait composition between patches that had been recently burnt, patches that were unburnt and patches subject to woody vegetation encroachment. We found that the functional traits of species converged in areas subject to woody plant encroachment and areas frequently disturbed by fire. Burning promoted native species, and patches of woody plants supressed the dominant grass, providing a wider range of habitat conditions. Secondly, we surveyed 477 residents living adjacent to these grassland conservation reserves to measure values, beliefs and attitudes and the acceptance of prescribed burning and removing woody vegetation. We found conflict in people's attitudes to grasslands, with both strongly positive and strongly negative attitudes expressed. The majority of residents found prescribed burning an acceptable management practice (contrary to expectations) and removing trees and shrubs from grasslands to be unacceptable. Both cognitive factors (values and beliefs) and landscape features were important in influencing these opinions. This research provides some guidance for managing urban grassland reserves as a social–ecological system, showing that ecological management, community education and engagement and landscape design features can be integrated to influence social and ecological outcomes.