Impacts of increased fire frequency and aridity on eucalypt forest structure, biomass and composition in southwest Australia

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Ecology and Biodiversity
TitleImpacts of increased fire frequency and aridity on eucalypt forest structure, biomass and composition in southwest Australia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsPekin, BK, Boer, MM, Macfarlane, C, Grierson, P
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Pagination2136 - 2142
Date Published10/2009
AbstractWater stress and fire disturbance can directly impact stand structure, biomass and composition by causing mortality and influencing competitive interactions among trees. However, open eucalypt forests of southwest Australia are highly resilient to fire and drought and may respond differently to increased fire frequency and aridity than forests dominated by non-eucalypt species. We measured the variation in stem density, basal area, stand biomass, sapwood area, leaf area and litterfall across 16 mixed jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) and marri (Corymbia calophylla) forest stands along an aridity gradient in southwest Australia that had variable fire histories. Fire frequency was defined as the total number of fires over a not, vert, similar30-year period and aridity as the ratio of potential evapotranspiration to annual precipitation. Total stand biomass and sapwood area were predicted from diameter at breast height of individual jarrah and marri trees using allometric equations. Leaf area was estimated using digital cover photography. More arid and frequently burnt stands had higher stem density, especially of smaller trees, which were mainly jarrah. Overall, both standing biomass and leaf area decreased at more arid sites, while sapwood area was largely unaffected by aridity, suggesting that these stands respond to increased water limitation by decreasing their leaf area relative to their sapwood area. Biomass of marri was reduced at more arid and, to a lesser extent, at more frequently burnt stands. However, total stand biomass (jarrah and marri) and leaf area index did not vary with fire frequency, suggesting that less marri biomass (due to slower growth rates, higher mortality or less recruitment) was compensated by an increase in the density of jarrah trees (regeneration). We conclude that increased fire and drought shift tree species composition towards more fire-resistant species and result in denser stands of smaller trees. In contrast, total stand biomass declines with increasing aridity, but has no association with fire frequency.
Short TitleForest Ecology and Management
Refereed DesignationRefereed