Contemporary fire regime risks to key ecological assets and processes in north Australian savannas

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    Abstract

    Despite the intact appearance of relatively unmodified north Australian savannas, mounting evidence indicates that contemporary fire regimes characterised by frequent, extensive and severe late dry season wildfires are having deleterious effects on a range of regional water, soil erosion, biodiversity conservation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions values. For the high rainfall (>1000mm year-1) savannas (426000km2), we assessed the spatial effects of contemporary fire regimes within the context of ecosystem response models and three plausible alternative fire management scenarios on ecosystem attributes. Over the 2008-12 assessment period, mean annual fire frequency (0.53) comprised mostly late dry season fires. Although spatially variable, contemporary fire regimes resulted in substantial GHG emissions, hill slope erosion and suspended sediment transport, a slight decline in carbon biomass and slight positive effects on fire-vulnerable vegetation. Based on available climate change models and strategic fire management practice, we show that, relative to business-as-usual, improved fire management involving strategic prescribed burning results in substantial benefits to most ecosystem attributes, including under enhanced climate change conditions, whereas in the absence of improved fire management, climate change results in substantially worse outcomes. 
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)857-870
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
    Volume24
    Issue number6
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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