Table of Contents
Fire Ecology, 2015
Volume 11, Issue 1
Ecological Implications of Fine-Scale Fire Patchiness and Severity in Tropical Savannas of Northern Australia
Authors: Sofia L.J. Oliveira, Manuel L. Campagnolo, Owen F. Price, Andrew C. Edwards, Jeremy Russell-Smith, and José M.C. Pereira
Understanding fine-scale fire patchiness has significant implications for ecological processes and biodiversity conservation. It can affect local extinction of and recolonisation by relatively immobile fauna and poorly seed-dispersed flora in fire-affected areas. This study assesses fine-scale fire patchiness and severity, and associated implications for biodiversity, in north Australian tropical savanna systems. We used line transects to sample burning patterns of ground layer vegetation in different seasons and vegetation structure types, within the perimeter of 35 fires that occurred between 2009 and 2011. We evaluated two main fire characteristics: patchiness (patch density and mean patch length) and severity (inferred from char and scorch heights, and char and ash proportions). The mean burned area of ground vegetation was 83% in the early dry season (EDS: May to July) and 93% in the late dry season (LDS: August to November). LDS fires were less patchy (smaller and fewer unburned patches), and had higher fire severity (higher mean char and scorch heights, and twice the proportion of ash) than EDS fires. Fire patchiness varied among vegetation types, declining under more open canopy structure. The relationship between burned area and fire severity depended on season, being strongly correlated in the EDS and uncorrelated in the LDS. Simulations performed to understand the implications of patchiness on the population dynamics of fire-interval sensitive plant species showed that small amounts of patchiness substantially enhance survival. Our results indicate that the ecological impacts of high frequency fires on fire-sensitive regional biodiversity elements are likely to be lower than has been predicted from remotely sensed studies that are based on assumptions of homogeneous burning.
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