Logging and fire regimes alter plant communities

Elle J. Bowd, David B. Lindenmayer, Sam C. Banks, David P. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Disturbances are key drivers of plant community composition, structure, and function. Plant functional traits, including life forms and reproductive strategies are critical to the resilience and resistance of plant communities in the event of disturbance. Climate change and increasing anthropogenic disturbance are altering natural disturbance regimes globally. When these regimes shift beyond the adaptive resilience of plant functional traits, local populations and ecosystem functions can become compromised. We tested the influence of multiple disturbances, of varying intensity and frequency, on the composition and abundance of vascular plant communities and their respective functional traits (life forms and reproductive strategies) in the wet sclerophyll, Mountain Ash Eucalyptus regnans forests of southeastern Australia. Specifically, we quantified the effect of the type and number of disturbances (including fires, clearcut logging, and salvage logging) on plant community composition. We found that clearcut and salvage logging and the number of fires significantly influenced plant community composition and functional traits. Specifically, multiple fires resulted in lower populations of species that depend on on-site seeding for persistence. This includes the common tree species Eucalyptus regnans, Pomaderris aspera, and Acacia dealbata. In contrast, clearcut and salvage logged sites supported abundant on-site seeder species. However, species that depend on resprouting by surviving individuals, such as common and keystone “tree ferns” Dicksonia antarctica and Cyathea australis, declined significantly. Our data have important implications for understanding the relationship between altered disturbance regimes and plant communities and the respective effects on ecosystem function. In a period of rapid global environmental change, with disturbances predicted to increase and intensify, it is critical to address the impact of altered disturbance regimes on biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-841
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Applications
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

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