Effect of experimental fire on seedlings of Australian and Gondwanan trees species from a Tasmanian montane vegetation mosaic
Prior, LD and French, BJ and Bowman, DMJS, Effect of experimental fire on seedlings of Australian and Gondwanan trees species from a Tasmanian montane vegetation mosaic, Australian Journal of Botany, 66, (7) pp. 511-517. ISSN 0067-1924 (2018) [Refereed Article]
The montane area of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was recently burnt by large fires ignited by lightning, and such fires are predicted to become more frequent with climate change. The region has a mix of fire-sensitive and fire-tolerant vegetation, but there is little information available on resprouting ability of seedlings of the dominant species of these mosaics. We predicted that seedlings of species found in fire-prone locations would exhibit more post-fire resprouting than seedlings of Gondwanan relictual species, which typically occur in fire-protected locations. To test this hypothesis we compared topkill and resprouting ability of seedlings from five tree species characteristic of the montane vegetation mosaics by exposing them to a propane burner flame for 0, 15, 30, 45 and 60 s, simulating a fire intensity of 33 kW m–1. Overall, 93 of 100 flame-exposed plants were topkilled. Topkill was related to duration of flame exposure and seedling size rather than species. By contrast, resprouting of topkilled seedlings was strongly correlated with species rather than seedling size, and was not affected by duration of flame exposure. Contrary to expectations, the rainforest plant Nothofagus cunninghamii was the strongest resprouter, whereas few of the topkilled eucalypt seedlings resprouted. Our study shows the commonly held association between palaeoendemic Gondwanan species and low fire tolerance versus Australian species and high fire tolerance is overly simplistic. We need to better understand fire recovery mechanisms in the Tasmanian flora using a combination of field observation and experimental approaches.