Fire reduces eucalypt forest flowering phenology at the landscape-scale

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Abstract

Plant phenology describes the timing of reproductive events including flowering and fruiting, which for many species are affected by fire disturbance. Understanding phenological responses to fire provides insights into how forest demographics and resources may shift alongside increasing fire frequency and intensity driven by climate change. However, isolating the direct effects of fire on a species' phenology and excluding potential confounders (e.g. climate, soil) has been difficult due to the logistical challenges of monitoring species-specific phenological events across myriad fire and environmental conditions. Here, we use CubeSat-derived crown-scale flowering data to estimate the effects of fire history (time since fire and fire severity over a 15-year time span) on flowering of the eucalypt Corymbia calophylla across a Mediterranean-climate forest () in southwest Australia. We found that fire reduced the proportion of flowering trees at the landscape-scale, and flowering recovered at a rate of 0.15 % ( SE) per year. Further, this negative effect was significant due to high crown scorch fires (20% canopy scorch), yet there was no significant effect from understory burns. Estimates were obtained using a quasi-experimental design which identifies the effect of time since fire and severity on flowering by comparing proportional flowering within target fire perimeters (treatment) and adjacent past fire perimeters (control). Given the majority of fires studied were managed fuel reduction burns, we applied the estimates to hypothetical fire regimes to compare flowering outcomes under more or less frequent prescribed burning. This research demonstrates the landscape-scale effects of burning on a tree species' reproduction, which could broadly impact forest resiliency and biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number164828
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume894
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2023

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