Impact of intense disturbance on the structure and composition of wet-eucalypt forests: A case study from the Tasmanian 2016 wildfires

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Fire is a key process in eucalypt communities, exerting a strong influence on the composition, structure and functioning of forests. Much of the research on the fire response of temperate, wet-sclerophyll trees in Australia comes from Victoria, where the dominant eucalypt is Eucalyptus regnans. In contrast, central and northern Tasmanian forests, dominated by Eucalyptus delegatensis, are relatively understudied. There is a need to determine whether Tasmanian wet-sclerophyll forests, though the same forest type in name, are functionally different in floristics and response to fire. Here we document the forest community response to a natural wildfire event in Tasmania—using opportunistic before/after control/impact (BACI) data from pre-existing monitoring plots. Uniting pre- and post-fire floristic data, we quantified mortality and regeneration of eucalypt, acacia and other dominant tree species, and tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, in response to wildfire. We also evaluated the density of eucalypt and acacia seedling establishment between burnt and unburnt forests, and quantified faunal responses to fire. Despite moderate-to-high intensity burning in patches across the plot, mortality of eucalypts, acacias and tree ferns due to fire were low. By contrast, fire-sensitive rainforest species showed low survival, though were able to persist in unburnt refugia. Eucalypt and acacia seedling regeneration was high in the burnt plot, suggesting that E. delegatensis forests regenerate without stand-replacing fire events. This contrasts to Victorian E. regnans forests, whose persistence is dependent on high-severity stand-replacing events. We also found some group-specific avifaunal and invertebrate responses to the fire event, which are broadly reflective of responses documented in other Victorian-based studies. Our results have implications for Tasmanian wet-forest silvicultural practices, which are based on the principle of stand-replacement after fire. The broader relevance of this work to forest ecology is in demonstrating the serendipitous opportunities that can arise with baseline monitoring plots.




Lunn, T. J., Gerwin, M., Buettel, J. C., & Brook, B. W. (2018). Impact of intense disturbance on the structure and composition of wet-eucalypt forests: A case study from the Tasmanian 2016 wildfires. PLoS ONE, 13(7).

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