Ecosystems

, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 1325–1344 | Cite as

Positive Feedbacks to Fire-Driven Deforestation Following Human Colonization of the South Island of New Zealand

  • Alan J. Tepley
  • Thomas T. Veblen
  • George L. W. Perry
  • Glenn H. Stewart
  • Cameron E. Naficy
Article

Abstract

Altered fire regimes in the face of climatic and land-use change could potentially transform large areas from forest to shorter-statured or open-canopy vegetation. There is growing concern that once initiated, these nonforested landscapes could be perpetuated almost indefinitely through a suite of positive feedbacks with fire. The rapid deforestation of much of New Zealand following human settlement (ca. 750 years ago) provides a rare opportunity to evaluate the feedback mechanisms that facilitated such extensive transformation and thereby help us to identify factors that confer vulnerability or resilience to similar changes in other regions. Here we evaluate the structure of living and dead vegetation (fuel loading) and microclimate (fuel moisture) in beech (Nothofagaceae) forests and adjacent stands that burned within the last 60–140 years and are dominated by mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) or kānuka (Kunzea spp.). We show that the burning of beech forests initiates a positive feedback cycle whereby the loss of microclimatic amelioration under the dense forest canopy and the abundant fine fuels that dry readily beneath the sparse mānuka/kānuka canopy enables perpetuation of these stands by facilitating repeated burning. Beech regeneration was limited to a narrow zone along the margin of unburned stands. The high flammability of vegetation that develops after fire and the long time to forest recovery were the primary factors that facilitated extensive deforestation with the introduction of human-ignited fire. Evaluating these two characteristics may be key to determining which regions may be near a tipping point where relatively small land-use- or climatically driven changes to fire regimes could bring about extensive deforestation.

Keywords

Alternative stable states fire hysteresis Kunzea Leptospermum Nothofagus microclimate reburn tipping point 

Supplementary material

10021_2016_8_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)
10021_2016_8_MOESM2_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 15 kb)

References

  1. Allen RB. 1987. Ecology of Nothofagus menziesii in the Catlins Ecological Region, South-east Otago, New Zealand (1) Seed production, viability, and dispersal. N Z J Bot 25:5–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen RB, Partridge TR, Lee WG, Efford M. 1992. Ecology of Kunzea ericoides (A. Rich.) J. Thompson (kanuka) in east Otago, New Zealand. N Z J Bot 30:135–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson SAJ, Doherty JJ, Pearce HG. 2008. Wildfires in New Zealand from 1991 to 2007. N Z J For 53:19–22.Google Scholar
  4. Baylis GTS. 1980. Mycorrhizas and the spread of beech. N Z J Ecol 3:151–3.Google Scholar
  5. Bond WJ, Woodward FI, Midgley GF. 2005. The global distribution of ecosystems in a world without fire. New Phytol 165:525–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bond WJ, Dickinson KJM, Mark AF. 2004. What limits the spread of fire-dependent vegetation? Evidence from geographic variation of serotiny in a New Zealand shrub. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 13:115–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowman DMJS, Murphy BP, Boerm MM, Bradstock RA, Cary GJ, Cochrane MA, Fensham RJ, Krawchuk MA, Price OF, Williams RJ. 2013. Forest fire management, climate change, and the risk of catastrophic carbon losses. Front Ecol Environ 11:66–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bray JR, Burke WD, Struik GJ. 1999. Propagule dispersion and forest regeneration in Leptospermum scoparium (manuka)—L. ericoides (kanuka) forests following fire in Golden Bay, New Zealand. N Z Nat Sci 24:35–52.Google Scholar
  9. Brown JK. 1974. Handbook for inventorying downed woody material. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report INT-16.Google Scholar
  10. Burrows CJ. 1973. The ecological niches of Leptospermum scoparium and L. ericoides (Angiospermae: Myrtaceae). Mauri Ora 1:5–12.Google Scholar
  11. Burrows CJ. 1996. Radiocarbon dates for Holocene fires and associated events, Canterbury, New Zealand. N Z J Bot 34:111–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cecil DJ, Buechler EE, Blakeslee RJ. 2014. Gridded lightning climatology from TRMM-LIS and OTD: dataset description. Atmos Res 135–136:404–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clout MN, Hay JR. 1989. The importance of birds as browsers, pollinators and seed dispersers in New Zealand Forests. N Z J Ecol 12:27–33.Google Scholar
  14. Cochrane MA, Alencar A, Schulze MD, Souza CM Jr, Nepstad DC, Lefebvre P, Davidson EA. 1999. Positive feedbacks in the fire dynamic of closed canopy tropical forests. Science 284:1832–5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dantas VL, Batalha MA, Pausas JG. 2013. Fire drives functional thresholds on the savanna-forest transition. Ecology 94:2454–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dantas VL, Hirota M, Oliveria RS, Pausas JG. 2015. Disturbance maintains alternative biome states. Ecol Lett . doi:10.1111/ele.12537.Google Scholar
  17. Dennison PE, Brewer SC, Arnold JD, Moritz MA. 2014. Large wildfire trends in the western United States, 1984–2011. Geophys Res Lett 41:2928–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dickie IA, Davis M, Carswell FE. 2012. Quantification of mycorrhizal limitation in beech spread. N Z J Ecol 36:210–15.Google Scholar
  19. Donato DC, Fontaine JB, Campbell JL, Robinson WD, Kauffman JB, Law BE. 2009. Conifer regeneration in stand-replacement portions of a large mixed-severity wildfire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Can J For Res 39:823–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Druce, AP. 1957. Botanical survey of an experimental catchment, Taita, New Zealand. New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Bulletin 124.Google Scholar
  21. Duncan RP. 1989. An evaluation of errors in tree age estimates based on increment cores in Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides). N Z Nat Sci 16:31–7.Google Scholar
  22. Dungan D. 1992. Rotoiti recollections: a collection of memoirs, historical writings and personality profiles relating to Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Province. Tasman District: St. Arnaud Community Association.Google Scholar
  23. Enright NJ, Fontaine JB, Bowman DMJS, Bradstock RA, Williams RJ. 2015. Interval squeeze: altered fire regimes and demographic responses interact to threaten woody species persistence as climate changes. Front Ecol Environ 13:265–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Esler AE, Astridge SD. 1974. Tea tree (Leptospermum) communities of the Waitakere Range, Auckland, New Zealand. N Z J Bot 12:485–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ewers RM, Kliskey AD, Walker S, Rutledge D, Harding JS, Didham RK. 2006. Past and future trajectories of forest loss in New Zealand. Biol Conserv 133:312–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Foley JA, DeFries R, Asner GP, Barford C, Bonan G, Carpenter SR, Chapin FS, Coe MT, Daily GC, Gibbs HK, Helkowski JH, Holloway T, Howard EA, Kucharik CJ, Monfreda C, Patz JA, Prentice IC, Ramankutty N, Snyder PK. 2005. Global consequences of land use. Science 309:570–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Gaertner M, Biggs R, Te Beest M, Hui C, Molofsky J, Richardson DM. 2014. Invasive plants as drivers of regime shifts: identifying high-priority invaders that alter feedback relationships. Divers Distrib 20:733–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heon J, Arseneault D, Parisien M. 2014. Resistance of the boreal forest to high burn rates. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:13888–93.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Hoffmann WA, Adasme R, Haridassan M, de Carvalho ME, Geiger EL, Pereira MAB, Gotsch SG, Franco AC. 2009. Tree topkill, not mortality, governs the dynamics of savanna–forest boundaries under frequent fire in central Brazil. Ecology 90:1326–37.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hoffmann WA, Geiger EL, Gotsch SG, Rossatto DR, Silva LCR, Lau OL, Haridasan M, Franco AC. 2012. Ecological thresholds at the savanna-forest boundary: how plant traits, resources and fire govern the distribution of tropical biomes. Ecol Lett 15:759–68.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Holz A, Wood SW, Veblen TT, Bowman DMJS. 2015. Effects of high-severity fire drove the population collapse of the subalpine Tasmanian endemic conifer Athrotaxis cupressoides. Glob Change Biol 21:445–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Keane RE. 2015. Wildland fuel fundamentals and applications. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kelly D. 1995. The Cass Fire (27–28 May 1995) and its effect on vegetation. J Canterb Bot Soc 29:25–8.Google Scholar
  34. Kelly D, Ladley JL, Robertson AW, Anderson SH, Wotton DM, Wiser SK. 2010. Mutualisms with the wreckage of an avifauna: the status of bird pollination and fruit-dispersal in New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 34:66–85.Google Scholar
  35. Kemp KB, Higuera PE, Morgan P. 2015. Fire legacies impact conifer regeneration across environmental gradients in the U.S. northern Rockies. Landsc Ecol 31:619–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kunstler G, Allen RA, Coomes DA, Canham CD, Wright EF. 2011. Sortie/NZ model development. Lincoln: Landcare Research.Google Scholar
  37. Ledgard NJ, Cath PW. 1983. Seed of New Zealand Nothofagus species. N Z Journal of For 28:150–62.Google Scholar
  38. Lindenmayer DN, Hobbs FJ, Likens GE, Krebs CJ, Banks SC. 2011. Newly discovered landscape traps produce regime shifts in wet forests. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108:15887–91.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Little JK, Prior LD, Williamson GJ, Williams SE, Bowman DMJS. 2012. Fire weather risk differs across rain forest–savanna boundaries in the humid tropics of north-eastern Australia. Austral Ecol 37:915–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lawes MJ, Richardson SJ, Clarke PJ, Midgley JL, McGlone MS, Bellingham PJ. 2014. Bark thickness does not explain the different susceptibility of Australian and New Zealand temperate rain forests to anthropogenic fire. J Biogeogr 41:1467–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lowe PR. 1977. An approximating polynomial for the computation of saturation vapor pressure. J Appl Meteorol 16:100–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lutes DC (Ed.). 2006. FIREMON: fire effects monitoring and inventory system. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-164-CD.Google Scholar
  43. McGlone MS. 1983. Polynesian deforestation of New Zealand: a preliminary synthesis. Archaeol Ocean 18:11–25.Google Scholar
  44. McWethy DB, Wilmshurst JM, Whitlock C, Wood JW, McGlone MS. 2014. A high-resolution chronology of rapid forest transitions following Polynesian arrival in New Zealand. PLoS One 9:e111328.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. McWethy DB, Higuera PE, Whitlock C, Veblen TT, Bowman DMJS, Cary GJ, Haberle SG, Keane RE, Maxwell BD, McGlone MS, Perry GLW, Wilmshurst JM, Holz A, Tepley AJ. 2013. A conceptual framework for predicting temperate ecosystem sensitivity to human impacts on fire regimes. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 22:900–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McWethy DB, Whitlock C, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Fromont M, Li X, Dieffenbacher-Krall A, Hobbs WO, Fritz SC, Cook ER. 2010. Rapid landscape transformation in South Island, New Zealand, following initial Polynesian settlement. Proc Natl Acad Sci 107:21343–8.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. McWethy DB, Whitlock C, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Li X. 2009. Rapid deforestation of South Island, New Zealand, by early Polynesian fires. Holocene 19:883–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mermoz M, Kitzberger T, Veblen TT. 2005. Landscape influences on fire occurrence and spread of wildfires in Patagonian forests and shrublands. Ecology 86:2705–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ogden J, Basher L, McGlone MS. 1998. Fire, forest regeneration and links with early human habitation: evidence from New Zealand. Ann Bot 81:687–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ogden J, Deng Y, Boswijk G, Sandiford A. 2003. Vegetation changes since early Maori fires in Waipoua Forest, northern New Zealand. J Archaeol Sci 30:753–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Paritsis J, Veblen TT, Holz A. 2015. Positive fire feedbacks contribute to shifts from Nothofagus pumilio forests to fire-prone shrublands in Patagonia. J Veg Sci 26:89–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Perry GLW, Ogden J, Enright NJ, Davy LV. 2010. Vegetation patterns and trajectories in disturbed landscapes, Great Barrier Island, northern New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 34:311–23.Google Scholar
  53. Perry GLW, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Napier A. 2012a. Reconstructing spatial vulnerability to forest loss by fire in pre-historic New Zealand. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 21:1029–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Perry GLW, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, McWethy DB, Whitlock C. 2012b. Explaining fire-driven landscape transformation during the Initial Burning Period of New Zealand’s prehistory. Glob Change Biol 18:1609–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Perry GLW, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS. 2014. Ecology and long-term history of fire in New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 38:157–76.Google Scholar
  56. Raffaele E, Veblen TT, Blackhall M, Tercero-Bucardo N. 2011. Synergistic influences of introduced herbivores and fire on vegetation change in northern Patagonia, Argentina. J Veg Sci 22:59–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ray D, Nepstad D, Moutinho P. 2005. Micrometeorological and canopy controls of fire susceptibility in a forested Amazon landscape. Ecol Appl 15:1664–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rogers GM, Walker S, Basher LM, Lee WG. 2007. Frequency and impact of Holocene fire in eastern South Island, New Zealand. N Z J Ecol 31:129–42.Google Scholar
  59. Romme WH, Everham EH, Frelich LE, Moritz MA, Sparks RE. 1998. Are large, infrequent disturbances qualitatively different from small, frequent disturbances? Ecosystems 1:524–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Scheffer M, Carpenter S, Foley JA, Folke C, Walker B. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413:591–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Smale MC. 1993. Sixth re-examination of permanent plots in secondary kanuka forest on Little Barrier Island. Tane 34:107–22.Google Scholar
  62. Staal A, Flores BM. 2015. Sharp ecotones spark sharp ideas: comment on “Structural, physiognomic and above-ground biomass variation in savanna–forest transition zones on three continents—how different are co-occurring savanna and forest formations?” by Veenendaal et al. (2015). Biogeosciences 12:5563–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Staver AC, Archibald S, Levin SA. 2011. The global extent and determinants of savanna and forest as alternative biome states. Science 334:230–2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Stewart GH, Rose AB. 1990. The significance of life history strategies in the developmental history of mixed beech (Nothofagus) forests, New Zealand. Vegetatio 87:101–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stewart GH, Rose AB, Veblen TT. 1991. Forest development in canopy gaps in old-growth beech (Nothofagus) forests, New Zealand. J Veg Sci 2:679–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tercero-Bucardo N, Kitzberger T, Veblen TT, Raffaele E. 2007. A field experiment on climatic and herbivore impacts on post-fire tree regeneration in northwestern Patagonia. J Ecol 95:771–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Venables WN, Ripley BD. 1997. Modern applied statistics with S-Plus. 2nd edn. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wardle J. 1984. The New Zealand beeches: ecology, utilization, and management. Wellington: New Zealand Forest Service.Google Scholar
  69. Whiteman CD, Hubbe JM, Shaw WJ. 2000. Evaluation of an inexpensive temperature datalogger for meteorological applications. J Atmos Ocean Technol 17:77–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Whitlock C, McWethy DB, Tepley AJ, Veblen TT, Holz A, McGlone MS, Perry GLW, Wilmshurst JM, Wood SW. 2015. Past and present vulnerability of closed-canopy temperate forest to altered fire regimes: a comparison of the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand, and Patagonia. Bioscience 65:151–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Partridge TR. 1997. A late Holocene history of natural disturbance in lowland podocarp/hardwood forest, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. N Z J Bot 35:79–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wilmshurst JM, Anderson AJ, Higham TFG, Worthy TH. 2008. Dating the late prehistoric dispersal of Polynesians to New Zealand using the commensal Pacific rat. Proc Natl Acad Sci 105:7676–80.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  73. Wiser SK, Allen RB, Platt KH. 1997. Mountain beech forest succession after a fire at Mount Thomas forest, Canterbury, New Zealand. N Z J Bot 35:505–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan J. Tepley
    • 1
    • 4
  • Thomas T. Veblen
    • 1
  • George L. W. Perry
    • 2
  • Glenn H. Stewart
    • 3
  • Cameron E. Naficy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.School of EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Department of Environmental ManagementFaculty of Environment, Society & DesignChristchurchNew Zealand
  4. 4.Smithsonian Conservation Biology InstituteFront RoyalUSA

Personalised recommendations