Does fire limit tree biomass in Australian savannas?

Brett Murphy, Adam Liedloff, Garry Cook

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    Abstract

    Processes allowing coexistence of trees and grasses in tropical savannas have long intrigued ecologists. Early theories focused on climatic controls, but a conceptual model has emerged suggesting that savanna trees are subject to a fire-mediated recruitment bottleneck, with frequent fires preventing recruitment of saplings into the tree layer and maintaining biomass well below its climate-determined upper bound. We propose that this conceptual model has been overemphasised in northern Australia, where tree abundance is more strongly controlled by water availability. The dominant trees, eucalypts, have a remarkable capacity to grow through the ‘fire trap’ to reach fire-resistant sizes. This fire tolerance makes eucalypts relatively unresponsive to management-imposed reductions in fire frequency and intensity. Other trees in these savannas are typically more fire sensitive and respond positively to such management. There are suggestions that savanna fire management could lead to increases in woody biomass, but we contend that if tree biomass is strongly limited by water availability, then potential increases in tree biomass are relatively limited, at least in relation to the dominant eucalypt component. There is potential to increase the biomass of the more fire-sensitive non-eucalypts, but the upper bound of non-eucalypt tree biomass in these eucalypt-dominated systems remains poorly understood.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
    Volume24
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

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    savanna
    savannas
    biomass
    water availability
    fire resistance
    fire management
    sapling
    ecologists
    saplings
    coexistence
    traps
    tolerance
    water
    grass
    grasses
    climate

    Cite this

    Murphy, Brett ; Liedloff, Adam ; Cook, Garry. / Does fire limit tree biomass in Australian savannas?. In: International Journal of Wildland Fire. 2015 ; Vol. 24, No. 1. pp. 1-13.
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    title = "Does fire limit tree biomass in Australian savannas?",
    abstract = "Processes allowing coexistence of trees and grasses in tropical savannas have long intrigued ecologists. Early theories focused on climatic controls, but a conceptual model has emerged suggesting that savanna trees are subject to a fire-mediated recruitment bottleneck, with frequent fires preventing recruitment of saplings into the tree layer and maintaining biomass well below its climate-determined upper bound. We propose that this conceptual model has been overemphasised in northern Australia, where tree abundance is more strongly controlled by water availability. The dominant trees, eucalypts, have a remarkable capacity to grow through the ‘fire trap’ to reach fire-resistant sizes. This fire tolerance makes eucalypts relatively unresponsive to management-imposed reductions in fire frequency and intensity. Other trees in these savannas are typically more fire sensitive and respond positively to such management. There are suggestions that savanna fire management could lead to increases in woody biomass, but we contend that if tree biomass is strongly limited by water availability, then potential increases in tree biomass are relatively limited, at least in relation to the dominant eucalypt component. There is potential to increase the biomass of the more fire-sensitive non-eucalypts, but the upper bound of non-eucalypt tree biomass in these eucalypt-dominated systems remains poorly understood.",
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    Does fire limit tree biomass in Australian savannas? / Murphy, Brett; Liedloff, Adam; Cook, Garry.

    In: International Journal of Wildland Fire, Vol. 24, No. 1, 12.2015, p. 1-13.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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    AU - Cook, Garry

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