Plant Ecology

, Volume 217, Issue 6, pp 617–629 | Cite as

Responses of tree species to a severe fire indicate major structural change to EucalyptusCallitris forests

  • Andrew J. Denham
  • Ben E. Vincent
  • Peter J. Clarke
  • Tony D. Auld
Article

Abstract

In many fire-prone habitats fires may be relatively frequent but of low severity or small areal extent. However, these same habitats may occasionally be subject to large, severe fires when extreme conditions and ignitions coincide. After >50 years without significant fire, a mega-fire burnt >50,000 ha of EucalyptusCallitris forest in southeastern Australia. We assessed the impact of this fire on vegetation structure at a landscape scale by quantifying post-fire responses of 11 tree species over 97 sites with varying fire severity. At low severity over 60 % of Callitris trees survived by escaping crown scorch, but they were almost all killed at higher severity. Fewer eucalypts escaped crown scorch (33 % at low fire severity) but there was no evidence of mortality due to the fire. Most eucalypts were topkilled (55 %) but less frequently at low (39 %) compared to moderate (55 %) or high (74 %) fire severity. Larger trees were less likely to suffer topkill. Taken together these results indicate that this wildfire has caused major changes to vegetation structure within the area burnt. Death of Callitris trees reduced canopy tree density by 25 % and a high proportion of eucalypt topkill has resulted in a shorter, more open forest. Recovery of the tallest structural components through eucalypt regrowth and maturation of Callitris may require fire-free intervals of several decades. Any fires within this period may extend the recovery time and lead to declines in populations of the obligate-seeding Callitris species.

Keywords

Structural change Resprout Eucalyptus Callitris Fire severity 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank Michael Bedward for providing formidable statistical analysis and advice of the highest quality and at times well beyond the normal call of duty. Michael Bedward and an anonymous reviewer also made helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

References

  1. Austin MP, Williams OB (1988) Influence of climate and community composition on the population demography of pasture species in semi-arid Australia. Vegetatio 77:43–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balfour DA, Midgley JJ (2006) Fire induced stem death in an African acacia is not caused by canopy scorching. Austral Ecol 31:892–896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bassett M, Chia EK, Leonard SWJ, Nimmo DG, Holland GJ, Ritchie EG, Clarke MF, Bennett AF (2015) The effects of topographic variation and the fire regime on coarse woody debris: insights from a large wildfire. For Ecol Manag 340:126–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batllori E, Ackerly DD, Moritz MA (2015) A minimal model of fire-vegetation feedbacks and disturbance stochasticity generates alternative stable states in grassland-shrubland-woodland systems. Environ Res Lett 10:034018CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belote RT, Larson AJ, Dietz MS (2015) Tree survival scales to community-level effects following mixed-severity fire in a mixed-conifer forest. For Ecol Manag 353:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett LT, Aponte C, Tolhurst KG, Loew M, Baker TG (2013) Decreases in standing tree-based carbon stocks associated with repeated prescribed fires in a temperate mixed-species eucalypt forest. For Ecol Manag 306:243–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benyon RG, Lane PNJ (2013) Ground and satellite-based assessments of wet eucalypt forest survival and regeneration for predicting long-term hydrological responses to a large wildfire. For Ecol Manag 294:197–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bradstock RA (2010) A biogeographic model of fire regimes in Australia: current and future implications. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 19:145–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burned Area Assessment Team (BAAT) (2013) Post-fire rapid risk assessment and mitigation: Wambelong fire, Warrumbungle National Park. Unpublished report to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, HurstvilleGoogle Scholar
  10. Chambers C, Mast J (2005) Ponderosa pine snag dynamics and cavity excavation following wildfire in northern Arizona. For Ecol Manag 216:227–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clarke PJ, Lawes MJ, Murphy BP, Russell-Smith J, Nano CEM, Bradstock R, Enright NJ, Fontaine JB, Gosper CR, Radford I, Midgley JJ, Gunton RM (2015) A synthesis of postfire recovery traits of woody plants in Australian ecosystems. Sci Total Environ 531:31–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clayton-Greene K, Ashton D (1990) The dynamics of Callitris columellaris/Eucalyptus albens communities along the Snowy River and its tributaries in south-eastern Australia. Aust J Bot 38:403–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cocking MI, Varner JM, Sherriff RL (2012) California black oak responses to fire severity and native conifer encroachment in the Klamath Mountains. For Ecol Manag 270:25–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cocking MI, Varner JM, Knapp EE (2014) Long-term effects of fire severity on oak-conifer dynamics in the southern Cascades. Ecol Appl 24:94–107CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Cohn JS, Lunt ID, Ross KA, Bradstock RA (2011) How do slow-growing, fire-sensitive conifers survive in flammable eucalypt woodlands? J Veg Sci 22:425–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cohn JS, Lunt ID, Bradstock RA, Hua Q, McDonald S (2013) Demographic patterns of a widespread long-lived tree are associated with rainfall and disturbances along rainfall gradients in SE Australia. Ecol Evolut 3:2169–2182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DellaSala DA, Hanson CT (2015) The ecological importance of mixed-severity fires. Elsevier, NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  18. Dodonov P, de Oliveira Xavier R, dos Santos Tiberio FC, de Lucena IC, Brandão Zanelli C, da Silva Matos DM (2014) Driving factors of small-scale variability in a savanna plant population after a fire. Acta Oecol 56:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harvey BJ, Holzman BA (2014) Divergent successional pathways of stand development following fire in a California closed-cone pine forest. J Veg Sci 25:88–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hoffmann W, Solbrig O (2003) The role of topkill in the differential response of savanna woody species to fire. For Ecol Manag 180:273–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hoffmann WA, Adasme R, Haridasan M, de Carvalho MT, 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 90:1326–1337CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hunter JT (2008) Vegetation and floristics of Warrumbungle National Park. Report to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, CoonabarabranGoogle Scholar
  23. Keith DA (2004) Ocean shores to desert dunes: the native vegetation of New South Wales. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), HurstvilleGoogle Scholar
  24. Ladd PG, Midgley JJ, Nield AP (2013) Serotiny in southern hemisphere conifers. Aust J Bot 61:486–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Leonard SWJ, Bennett AF, Clarke MF (2014) Determinants of the occurrence of unburnt forest patches: potential biotic refuges within a large, intense wildfire in south-eastern Australia. For Ecol Manag 314:85–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lindenmayer DB, Blanchard W, McBurney L, Blair D, Banks SC, Driscoll D, Smith AL, Gill AM (2013) Fire severity and landscape context effects on arboreal marsupials. Biol Conserv 167:137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lunt ID, Zimmer HC, Cheal DC (2011) The tortoise and the hare? Post-fire regeneration in mixed Eucalyptus-Callitris forest. Aust J Bot 59:575–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Miller JD, Thode AE (2007) Quantifying burn severity in a heterogeneous landscape with a relative version of the delta normalized burn ratio (dNBR). Remote Sens Environ 109:66–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. OEH (2015) Fire management manual 2015-2016: policy and procedures for fire management. NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/firemanagement/final/140397FireManManual.pdf. Accessed 8 Feb 2016
  30. Ooi MKJ, Whelan RJ, Auld TD (2006) Persistence of obligate-seeding species at the population scale: effects of fire intensity, fire patchiness and long fire-free intervals. Int J Wildland Fire 15:261–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Parnaby H, Lunney D, Shannon I, Fleming M (2010) Collapse rates of hollow-bearing trees following low intensity prescription burns in the Pilliga forests, New South Wales. Pac Conserv Biol 16:209–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Penman TD, Kavanagh RP, Binns DL, Melick DR (2007) Patchiness of prescribed burns in dry sclerophyll eucalypt forests in South-eastern Australia. For Ecol Manag 252:24–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Plummer M (2015) rjags: Bayesian graphical models using MCMC. R package version 3-15. http://CRAN.R-project.org/package=rjags
  34. Ross KA, Bedward M, Ellis MV, Deane A, Simpson CC, Bradstock RA (2008) Modelling the dynamics of white cypress pine Callitris glaucophylla woodlands in inland south-eastern Australia. Ecol Model 211:11–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Strasser M, Pausas J, Noble I (1996) Modelling the response of eucalypts to fire, Brindabella ranges, ACT. Aust J Ecol 21:341–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Trauernicht C, Murphy BP, Portner TE, Bowman DMJS (2012) Tree cover-fire interactions promote the persistence of a fire-sensitive conifer in a highly flammable savanna. J Ecol 100:958–968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Whipp RK, Lunt ID, Spooner PG, Bradstock RA (2012) Changes in forest structure over 60 years: tree densities continue to increase in the Pilliga forests, New South Wales, Australia. Aust J Bot 60:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Denham
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ben E. Vincent
    • 3
  • Peter J. Clarke
    • 3
  • Tony D. Auld
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Ecosystem Management ScienceOffice of Environment and HeritageHurstvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for Sustainable Ecosystem Solutions, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.Botany, School of Environmental and Rural ScienceUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  4. 4.Centre for Ecosystem ScienceUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations