Premature Decline of Eucalyptus and Altered Ecosystem Processes in the Absence of Fire in Some Australian Forests

Abstract

We propose a model of ‘premature tree decline’ whereby an absence of fire hastens the mortality of overstorey eucalypts in some forests. This model is relevant to some temperate Australian forests in which fire regimes have shifted from relatively frequent before European settlement to infrequent following settlement. The increased development of midstorey vegetation and litter accumulation has occurred since European settlement in some specific examples of Australian forests and woodlands. Our model proposes that in the long absence of fire: 1. midstorey vegetation reduces the availability of soil water for eucalypts and; 2. Eucalypts have less access to P and/or cations as these elements become locked up in soil, litter and midstorey biomass. We highlight important knowledge gaps and argue that research into ecological burning, for eucalypt health and other values such as biodiversity, is urgently required.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Ian Abbott, Paul Barber, Frank Batini, Bob Ellis, Vic Jurskis, Rick Sneeuwjagt, Perry Swanborough, Kevin Tolhurst, John Turner, Dave Ward and Roy Wittkuhn for discussions during the preparation of this manuscript. David Bowman provided insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The Bushfire CRC provided Fellowship to DC Close and the operational funds for the unpublished research results by Close et al. referred to in this manuscript.

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Close, D.C., Davidson, N.J., Johnson, D.W. et al. Premature Decline of Eucalyptus and Altered Ecosystem Processes in the Absence of Fire in Some Australian Forests. Bot. Rev. 75, 191–202 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12229-009-9027-y

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Keywords

  • Ecological Burning
  • Fire Management
  • Nutrient Cycling
  • Water Competition