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Does inherent flammability of grass and litter fuels contribute to continental patterns of landscape fire activity?


Prior, LD and Murphy, BP and Williamson, GJ and Cochrane, MA and Jolly, WM and Bowman, DMJS, Does inherent flammability of grass and litter fuels contribute to continental patterns of landscape fire activity?, Journal of Biogeography, 44, (6) pp. 1225-1238. ISSN 0305-0270 (2017) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

DOI: doi:10.1111/jbi.12889


Aims: To (1) identify the trade-offs among flammability attributes within grass and litter fuel types; (2) determine how flammability attributes of grass and litter fuels vary across macro-ecological gradients; and (3) test our hypothesis that inherent flammability attributes of grass and litter fuels scale to satellite-derived proxies for fire frequency and intensity.

Location: Continent of Australia.

Methods: Samples of litter and grass fuels collected from 133 sites across Australia were oven dried, then burnt under controlled conditions. Measurements of ignitability, combustibility and sustainability were made. Estimates of fire frequency and fire radiative power (a proxy for intensity) were derived from satellite imagery. Multivariate analyses were used to identify inter-relationships among variables and trends across macro-ecological gradients.

Results: Flammability was best described by two axes: high rate of combustion versus long duration of burning, and fast rate of spread versus high maximum temperature. As expected, our study confirmed that grass and litter fuel types have inherently differently flammability attributes whereby grass samples burn more quickly, with a higher rate of spread, than litter samples. However, there were also smaller differences in flammability attributes within fuel types, which scaled to rainfall, temperature and soil phosphorus concentrations. In keeping with our hypothesis, we found correlations between inherent fuel flammability attributes and landscape fire activity across the Australian continent. Fire frequency and rate of combustion of grass fuels were both highest in the tropics, and fire intensity and maximum temperature during combustion of litter fuels were highest in temperate areas.

Main conclusions: At a continental scale, we found landscape fire activity was correlated with inherent flammability of grass and litter fuels. This inherent flammability contributes to observed pyrogeographical patterns that are shaped by climate through its known effects on plant productivity, the abundance of cured grass biomass and fire weather.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Australia, biogeographical patterns, fire frequency, fire intensity, fire radiative power, grass fuels, litter fuels, MODIS active fire detections, pyrogeography, landscape, flammability
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Ecological applications
Research Field:Landscape ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Natural hazards
Objective Field:Natural hazards not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Prior, LD (Dr Lynda Prior)
UTAS Author:Murphy, BP (Dr Brett Murphy)
UTAS Author:Williamson, GJ (Dr Grant Williamson)
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
ID Code:112014
Year Published:2017 (online first 2016)
Web of Science® Times Cited:31
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2016-10-21
Last Modified:2022-06-16

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