Effects of fire history on the structure and floristic composition of woody vegetation around Kalumburu, North Kimberley, Australia: a landscape-scale natural experiment

T Vigilante, David Bowman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Indigenous landscape burning is practiced around remote communities in the Kimberleys but has been replaced by wildfires across uninhabited areas. A landscape-scale natural experiment was established to investigate the effects of these different fire histories (derived from a 10-year Landsat remote-sensing sequence) on the floristic structure and composition of woody vegetation within and among three of the major vegetation types on three landscape types (sandplain, sandstone and volcanics) near Kalumburu in the North Kimberley bioregion. Substrate factors determine vegetation and associated fire patterns within the landscape such that each landscape type needs to be examined independently. Basalt soils are dominated by an open savanna and tend to have very high fire frequencies. Basalt vegetation showed few significant response variables to fire-history parameters. The total density of woody stems showed no significant relationship to fire-history variables, regardless of size class. The 0-2.0-m size class of Erythrophleum chlomstachys (F.Muell.) Baillon showed significant (P < 0.005) responses to the various interactions involving all three fire-history variables, indicating that seedling density is sensitive to fire. Sandplain is dominated by open woodland, with relatively low fire frequency. Total stem density, shrub density and the densities of Grevillea agrifolia Cunn. Ex R.Br., Canthium sp. A and Stenocarpus cunninghamii R.Br. showed strong positive (P < 0.005) relationships with the total number of fire-free months. In sandstone, the density of all woody stems, acacias and a range of mid-storey trees showed significant positive relationships with the total number of fire-free months. Other species showed strong relationships with the number of late dry season fires. Vegetation thickening was evident in sand environments through the accumulation of woody stems in fire-free years and in sandstone through the promotion of 'fireweeds' such as Acacia gonocarpa F.Muell. after fire events. Mid-storey tree species capable of resprouting after fire showed some evidence of structural suppression in response to frequent fire events, including Planchonia careya (F.Muell.) Knuth, Persoonia falcata R.Br. and Buchanania obovata Engl. Results are discussed in the context of indigenous landscape burning and biodiversity conservation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)381-404
    Number of pages24
    JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
    Volume52
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

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