Rapid response of habitat structure and above-ground carbon storage to altered fire regimes in tropical savanna

Shaun R. Levick, Anna E. Richards, Garry D. Cook, Jon Schatz, Marcus Guderle, Richard J. Williams, Parash Subedi, Susan E. Trumbore, Alan N. Andersen

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    Fire regimes across the globe have been altered through changes in land use, land management, and climate conditions. Understanding how these modified fire regimes impact vegetation structure and dynamics is essential for informed biodiversity conservation and carbon management in savanna ecosystems. We used a fire experiment at the Territory Wildlife Park (TWP), northern Australia, to investigate the consequences of altered fire regimes for vertical habitat structure and above-ground carbon storage. We mapped vegetation three-dimensional (3-D) structure in high spatial resolution with airborne lidar across 18 replicated 1 ha plots of varying fire frequency and season treatments. We used lidar-derived canopy height and cover metrics to extrapolate field-based measures of woody biomass to the full extent of the experimental site (R2 D 0:82, RMSED7.35 tC ha1) and analysed differences in above-ground carbon storage and canopy structure among treatments. Woody canopy cover and biomass were highest in the absence of fire (76% and 39.8 tC ha1) and lowest in plots burnt late in the dry season on a biennial basis (42% and 18.2 t Cha1). Woody canopy vertical profiles differed among all six fire treatments, with the greatest divergence in height classes < 5 m. The magnitude of fire effects on vegetation structure varied along the environmental gradient underpinning the experiment, with less reduction in biomass in plots with deeper soils. Our results highlight the large extent to which fire management can shape woody structural patterns in savanna landscapes, even over time frames as short as a decade. The structural profile changes shown here, and the quantification of carbon reduction under late dry season burning, have important implications for habitat conservation, carbon sequestration, and emission reduction initiatives in the region.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1493-1503
    Number of pages11
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2019


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