Megafire-induced interval squeeze threatens vegetation at landscape scales
Wildfires in 2019–2020 broke global records for extent and severity, affirming the arrival of the megafire era. Frequent megafires reflect changes to fire regimes that can negatively impact species and ecosystems. Here, we offer what we believe to be the first comprehensive analysis of megafire impacts on southeastern Australian vegetation communities, combining remote-sensing data, fire-history records, and plant trait-derived fire interval thresholds. In our study area, fires burned over 5.5 million ha. We found that one-third of all native vegetation in this region has burned too frequently following the megafires, particularly impacting fire-sensitive vegetation (for example, rainforests). This represents a single-year increase of 36% in the vegetation at risk of interval squeeze (vegetation transitions driven by altered fire regimes) compared to the previous 59 years combined. We demonstrate that megafires can overrun recently burned vegetation and infiltrate refugia, reducing fire intervals beyond the persistence thresholds of plant species and increasing the risk of ecosystem collapse. Averting this will require innovative approaches to fire management. However, if climate change is not addressed, ecosystem collapse may be unavoidable especially for ecosystems adapted to infrequent, high-severity fire.
NSW Office of Environment & Heritage
Publication titleFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Department/SchoolSchool of Natural Sciences
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Place of publicationUnited States
Rights statement© 2022 The Authors. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Ecological Society of America. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/