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Using permanent forest plots to evaluate the resilience to fire of Tasmania’s tall wet eucalypt forests
The vulnerability to repeated high severity fires of tall wet eucalypt forests (TWEF) dominated by obligate seeder species is widely understood. However, 80% of Tasmania’s TWEF are dominated by resprouter species, and while these forests are more resilient to wildfire than those dominated by obligate seeders, the degree of their resilience is not well documented. Recently, two wildfires affected five 1-ha forest plots that had been previously measured, providing the opportunity to assess fire effects on these forest stands. We characterised these wildfires using remote sensing and field measurements of char height (a proxy for fire intensity) and canopy scorch (fire severity). We assessed the influence of tree diameter, fire intensity and seedling densities on the survival and resprouting responses of eucalypt overstorey trees and mixed species understorey trees. Our results showed that these fires were predominantly of low to moderate intensity and severity. Our results showed that mature TWEF were resilient to these wildfires, with overall eucalypt survival of 75%. The major eucalypt species were either mostly not defoliated (E. regnans), or could recover rapidly by epicormic resprouting (E. delegatensis and E. obliqua). Results from this and other studies show recovery from topkill caused by high severity fires occurs but is slower, by basal resprouting (E. obliqua) or from seed (all species). By contrast, understorey species suffered high mortality (85% overall), with few species showing substantial resprouting. Fire resistance in both groups increased markedly with tree diameter.
Our results have implications for forest management. The high survival of overstorey eucalypts leads to a multi-aged stand structure in most unlogged old growth TWEF in Tasmania. On the other hand, clearfell logging, originally designed to mimic stand replacing wildfire in obligate seeder systems, creates a vulnerable, even aged stand of young regrowth, and at a landscape scale, it also reduces average tree size, reducing overall resistance to fire. Adopting alternatives to clearfelling, such as partial logging systems, will increase landscape resilience to fire, as well as providing other previously shown benefits.
Publication titleForest Ecology and Management
Issue01 February 2022
Department/SchoolSchool of Natural Sciences
PublisherElsevier Science Bv
Place of publicationPo Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae
Rights statement© 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.