Impacts of a single fire event on large, old trees in a grass-invaded arid river system

Christine Schlesinger, Erin Louise Westerhuis

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Abstract

Large old trees are keystone structures of terrestrial ecosystems that provide unique habitat resources for wildlife. Their widespread decline worldwide has serious implications for biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. In arid regions, large trees are relatively uncommon and often restricted to areas with elevated soil moisture and nutrients. Introduced grasses, now pervasive in many dryland environments, also thrive in such areas, and are promoting more frequent and intense fire, potentially threatening the persistence of large trees. Here we report on the impact of a single wildfire on large river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh.) in arid riparian woodland invaded by buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.), a serious invader of desert ecosystems worldwide. In 2018, 266 trees with > 80 cm equivalent trunk diameter were mapped at six sites to provide a ‘pre-fire’ baseline. Within a year, the sites were impacted by a large, unprecedented wildfire that burnt an area of 660 km2 ha in 15 days. Sites were resurveyed in February 2019 to assess the fate of the trees. Reference to fire severity, calculated from remote-sensed imagery, is provided for additional context.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberFECO-D-21-00018R1
JournalFire Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 Sep 2021

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