Effects of multiple fires on tree invasion in montane grasslands
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- Fairfax, R., Fensham, R., Butler, D. et al. Landscape Ecol (2009) 24: 1363. doi:10.1007/s10980-009-9388-y
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There is circumstantial evidence that grasslands on the Bunya Mountains were once maintained by Aboriginal burning, and with lack of fire under European management are being colonised by trees. To assess the efficacy of burning for maintaining grasslands, 119 fires were lit between 1996 and 2006. The total area of unburnt grasslands decreased by 27%, while grasslands burnt at least once decreased by 1%. The density of invading trees was recorded from fixed plots on 23 grasslands burnt between one and six times. Cassinia was virtually eliminated and the density of the Rainforest species guild slowly but continually declined. Acacia irrorata exhibited a humped response, with initial increases resulting from vegetative resprouting and gradual decline with persistent burning. Phyllodinous Acacia and Woodland trees were the least fire sensitive guilds, having stable or increased density with repeated burning. Multi-factor regression modelling detected no significant relationships between changes in woody plant density and the interval between fires, fire intensity, the initial density of large trees, an index of soil moisture, or the cumulative number of fires for any species guild. The survivorship of both Cassinia and Rainforest guilds was significantly lower with summer burning than winter burning, but a seasonal effect of burning was not evident for other guilds. The findings suggest that regardless of fire conditions, frequent burning will reduce the number of adult trees, maintain resprouts in an immature state, facilitate further fire and reduce the rate of grassland loss. Woodland species are especially resilient to fire, and burning to maintain grassy ecosystems will be most successful where the main colonisers are rainforest species and burning is conducted in summer. The findings suggest that the montane grasslands of the Bunya Mountains were maintained by anthropogenic burning and active fire management will prolong their existence.