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Fire regimes of Australia: a pyrogeographic model system


Murphy, BP and Bradstock, RA and Boer, MM and Carter, J and Cary, GJ and Cochrane, MA and Fensham, RJ and Russell-Smith, J and Williamson, GJ and Bowman, DMJS, Fire regimes of Australia: a pyrogeographic model system, Journal of Biogeography, 40, (6) pp. 1048-1058. ISSN 0305-0270 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

DOI: doi:10.1111/jbi.12065


Aim: Comparative analyses of fire regimes at large geographical scales can potentially identify ecological and climatic controls of fire. Here we describe Australia's broad fire regimes, and explore interrelationships and trade-offs between fire regime components. We postulate that fire regime patterns will be governed by trade-offs between moisture, productivity, fire frequency and fire intensity. Location Australia.

Methods: We reclassified a vegetation map of Australia, defining classes based on typical fuel and fire types. Classes were intersected with a climate classification to derive a map of 'fire regime niches'. Using expert elicitation and a literature search, we validated each niche and characterized typical and extreme fire intensities and return intervals. Satellite-derived active fire detections were used to determine seasonal patterns of fire activity.

Results: Fire regime characteristics are closely related to the latitudinal gradient in summer monsoon activity. Frequent low-intensity fires occur in the monsoonal north, and infrequent, high-intensity fires in the temperate south, demonstrating a trade-off between frequency and intensity: that is, very high intensity fires are only associated with very low-frequency fire regimes in the high biomass eucalypt forests of southern Australia. While these forests occasionally experience extremely intense fires (> 50,000 kW m-1), such regimes are exceptional, with most of the continent dominated by grass fuels, typically burning with lower intensity (< 5000 kW m-1).

Main conclusions: Australia's fire regimes exhibit a coherent pattern of frequent, grass-fuelled fires in many differing vegetation types. While eucalypts are a quintessential Australian entity, their contribution as a dominant driver of high-intensity fire regimes, via their litter and bark fuels, is restricted to the forests of the continent's southern and eastern extremities. Our analysis suggests that the foremost driver of fire regimes at the continental scale is not productivity, as postulated conceptually, but the latitudinal gradient in summer monsoon rainfall activity.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:fire australia; pyrogeography
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Ecological applications
Research Field:Landscape ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Murphy, BP (Dr Brett Murphy)
UTAS Author:Williamson, GJ (Dr Grant Williamson)
UTAS Author:Bowman, DMJS (Professor David Bowman)
ID Code:82377
Year Published:2013 (online first 2012)
Web of Science® Times Cited:178
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2013-01-29
Last Modified:2022-11-21

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