Collaborative Research Network (CRN)

Dr Janet Cohn

Research Fellow

University of Melbourne

Janet Cohn's area of expertise – fire and its impact on the landscape – has particular significance to rural and regional communities in Victoria, for which fire management has long been a controversial topic.

In her work with the CRN, Dr Cohn is looking at the influence of climate change and changing fire regimes on native ecosystems. More specifically, she is interested in the influence of predicted increases in temperature, declines in rainfall and increases in fire occurrence on plant biodiversity.

Dr Cohn's work will focus on heathy and forested systems, which are widespread in Victoria, She believes the capacity to manage and adapt to future fire regimes will be moderated by changing temperature and moisture patterns. At the same time forest restorationthe type of ecosystem will influence the fuel load across the regional landscape, and so, mayin turn influence the risk fromof fire.

As a result, Dr Cohn's project will explore the ability of native plants to adapt to changing climate and fire regimes. In turn this will inform us of changes in species composition, structure and flammability within these widespread ecosystems. Her research fulfils the CRN's commitment to researching landscape change in regional areas.

In her work with the CRN, Dr Cohn is looking at climate change and the effect rising temperatures will have on fire regimes. Specifically, she will be exploring the risks and opportunities for fire management, carbon sequestration, habitat restoration and biodiversity under a changing climate.

Dr Cohn's research will also look at the effect of fire regimes on forest ecosystems. She believes the capacity to manage and adapt to future fire regimes will be moderated by changing temperature and moisture patterns. At the same time forest restoration will influence the fuel load across the regional landscape, and so, may influence the risk from fire.

As a result, Dr Cohn's project will also explore risks of adaptation and biodiversity restoration in terms of fire and climate change, while at the same time exploring the capacity to mitigate against climate change through carbon sequestration.Her research fulfils the CRN's commitment to researching landscape change in regional areas.

"With climate change, there are predictions of more extreme fire days," Dr Cohn said. "We need to know what impact that will be having on the environment. Some species of plants may be more affected than others.

"Additionally we are having more prescribed burn-offs, a patchwork or mosaic of them, and we don't know a lot about the impact of those, either, on the landscape."

Dr Cohn brings to the CRN a diverse geographic research background.

She completed a Bachelor of Natural Resources (Honours) at the University of New England on the northern tablelands of NSW.

Her Honours project examined whether maintaining large populations of insectivores (i.e. sugar gliders) in winter reduced the size of insect outbreaks in summer, thus reducing their contribution to eucalypt dieback.

From the early 1980s to the mid-2000s, she worked in the ecological research section of the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage working on a range of projects that looked at the effects of fire, grazing and logging regimes on native animal and plant dynamics in ecosystems from the arid to the temperate zones.

In 2011, she completed her PhD at Charles Sturt University in Albury in southern NSW. There, she examined how the dynamics of dominant woodland trees (Eucalyptus species and Callitris Glaucophyllaglaucophylla) changed with climate and disturbance regimes (i.e. fire, grazing, logging ) in south eastern Australia.

The journey further south continued when she became a Research Fellow at Melbourne University. Dr Cohn now works with the university's at Creswick, just outside of Ballarat, and she is excited that the CRN formalises the relationship between her organisation and Federation University Australia.

She laughs at the idea of being fired up by her research with the CRN, although she agrees that this is the case.

"I am always looking for people to collaborate with, formally and informally. This formal relationship between our department and Federatoin University Australia will spark a lot of ideas, which is the great thing about collaborations. You sit down together and you have conversations and you get ideas about new areas of research that you'd never thought of before," she said.