Patterns of long-term woody vegetation change in a sandstone-plateau savanna woodland, Northern Territory, Australia

B Sharp, David Bowman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Aerial photographs were used to assess changes in woody vegetation cover at 122 locations within a sandstone-plateau savanna woodland in the Victoria River region, Northern Territory, Australia. Despite locally variable vegetation responses, there has been little change in total woody vegetation cover since 1948. Thirty-three locations were also surveyed on the ground. It was found that sites for which vegetation cover had changed over the 50-y period were not significantly different from stable sites in terms of floristic composition, recent fire history, demographic stability among the dominant tree species, or edaphic setting. However, two of the dominant overstorey tree species - Eucalyptus tetrodonta and Eucalyptus phoenicea - showed significantly higher mortality on sites that had experienced vegetation cover decline since 1948. We suggest that observed changes in woody vegetation cover are a consequence of natural cycles of die-back and recovery of at least these two species in response to spatially heterogenous variables such as dry-season moisture stress. Although the widespread decline of fire-sensitive Callitris intratropica populations clearly indicates a historical shift from lower- to higher-intensity burning conditions within the study area, we reject the hypothesis of a landscape-wide process such as changing fire regimes or climatic change as the driving factor behind large-scale vegetation changes detected by aerial photographic analysis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)259-270
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
    Volume20
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

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