Time since fire and prior fire interval shape woody debris dynamics in obligate-seeder woodlands

Carl R. Gosper, Colin J. Yates, Elizabeth Fox, Suzanne M. Prober

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Woody debris plays an important role in many ecosystem functions, including nutrient and carbon cycling, providing substrates for plant recruitment and habitat for fauna. Fires can affect woody debris stocks, through generating new pieces by killing or severing plant parts and consuming pre-existing woody debris. We develop a model of woody debris dynamics with variation in time since fire and prior fire interval applicable to obligate-seeder forests and woodlands, considering down woody debris and standing dead trees as discrete components. We then test predictions of change in woody debris derived from this model in Eucalyptus salubris woodlands in South-Western Australia, using a multi-century chronosequence with recent fires varying between having short (50 yr, but often much longer) prior intervals. As per our woody debris dynamics model, most attributes measured were affected by time since fire, prior fire interval, or their interaction. Woody debris biomass was greatest shortly after fire, reflecting high quantities of standing dead trees resulting from stand-replacement disturbance. Standing dead tree density and biomass then declined with increasing time since fire, but individual dead tree size was high beyond 200 yr since fire. Down woody debris biomass remained relatively stable with time since fire, but piece size increased. Dimensions of woody debris were strongly influenced by prior fire interval, with long prior intervals resulting in pieces at least twice the size than those occurring after short prior intervals. Fire management to maximize the availability of large woody debris pieces for fauna should aim to minimize short fire intervals, while from a carbon management perspective, all fires in obligate-seeder forests and woodlands set in train large and prolonged emissions of carbon.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02927
Number of pages19
JournalEcosphere
Volume10
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

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