A critical review of the science underpinning fire management in the high altitude ecosystems of south-eastern Australia

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Ecology and Biodiversity
Fire Management
Fuel Management
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TitleA critical review of the science underpinning fire management in the high altitude ecosystems of south-eastern Australia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsAdams, MA, Cunningham, SC, Taranto, MT
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Date Published1/2013
AbstractWe reviewed the scope and quality of published literature relevant to management of the risk of fire and accompanying risks to ecological values, in the vegetation types (mostly forests and woodlands, but including grasslands and herbfields) of the High Country (>750m asl) of south-eastern Australia. Our analysis of quality suggests the published science has improved markedly over the past 60years. That said, there is insufficient data on any subject for a formal meta-analysis. Much of the work published in the past may not pass peer-review today and there are few on-going, long-term studies of the effects of management of a standard that might meet this test. Given the limited number of recent studies of higher quality, this raises the question as to an acceptable standard of evidence for policy making for future management of native ecosystems. With the exception of grassland, feldmark and herbfield types, available data shows that all High Country vegetation types produce fuel loads >10tha−1 in less than 10years after fire, notwithstanding the different fire risk associated with each fuel type (e.g. grasses vs woody shrubs vs forest litter), suggesting that fuel management will continue to be an issue for land managers. The varied and inconsistent history of past land management makes the interpretation of short-term studies difficult. Highlights of past research include the detailed studies of Costin and co-workers that were exemplary for their time in their use of replicated treatments, adequate controls and significant periods of study (4+ year). Recent studies of effects of fire on water yield and quality that are based on well-replicated studies, again over substantial periods of time, are helping fill knowledge gaps. Many other ecological topics of interest to land managers remain poorly understood, including: long-term vegetation and fuel dynamics, nutrient balance, weed invasions and further aspects of hydrology. If high altitude catchments are to be managed effectively, we must improve our understanding the dynamics of fuel loads, vegetation, nutrients and water supply through collection of long-term quantitative data.
Short TitleForest Ecology and Management
Refereed DesignationRefereed