Resprouting and mortality of juvenile eucalypts in an Australian savanna: Impacts of fire season and annual sorghum

Pat Werner, Donald Franklin

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    In northern Australian savannas, canopy tree species often have juvenile tree banks that are composed mainly of small individuals of indeterminate age that have resprouted repeatedly after fire. Little is known about their demography. We report the initial responses (mortality, topkill and resprouting type) of 3133 marked juvenile eucalypts to set fires of different seasons (early dry season, late dry season, wet season, unburnt) in a 32400m2 field experiment. Fire treatments were repeated in plots dominated by a native annual grass (sorghum) that becomes senescent before the early dry season and provides the main fuel of savanna fires, and in others with little or no sorghum, but instead other native grasses and forbs that remain green well into the dry season. Most juvenile eucalypts 150cm high were topkilled but resprouted from underground tissues regardless of fire season or understorey (86-100% vs 5% in unburnt plots). Few saplings 200-500cm high died or were topkilled, but impacts of fire were harsher in sorghum than in non-sorghum vegetation. The response of eucalypts 150199cm high was intermediate, suggesting a 'tactical' transition from suppressed persistence to growth toward maturity. Counter-intuitively, genet death of juvenile trees was 22% in the low-intensity early dry season fire in plots with little or no annual sorghum, compared with 2% in all other fire/understorey combinations. We suggest results are related to fire behaviour, seasonal carbohydrate storage dynamics and competition with ground-layer plants. � 2010 CSIRO.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)619-628
    Number of pages10
    JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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