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Using plant functional traits to predict ecosystem vulnerability to changing fire regimes

 

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Project overview


Fire shapes plant community assembly and resilience through interactions involving climate, resources and plant functional traits. Until recently, Australia has lacked a coherent approach for synthesizing plant fire functional traits to predict the response of ecosystems to fire regimes. The Buds-Protection-Resources scheme (BPR), developed by the PIs (Clarke, Lawes & Midgley 2010; Clarke et al. 2013), provides a unifying framework for synthesizing plant functional traits for predicting ecosystem change in relation to changing disturbance regimes, and applies to all terrestrial biomes and across a range of disturbance regimes. Applying the BPR framework using a wealth of existing plant community data from Australia,we will conduct a new synthesis of plant fire resistance traits by collating resprouting, non-sprouting (reseeder) and bark datasets from fire vulnerable Austral biomes. We will examine the resprouter – reseeder typology and plant fire resistance traits spectrum, attribute species into bud response (e.g. epicormic resprouters) and bud protection (e.g. bark thickness) types, and analyse these data in relation to productivity (nutrients and water availability) and fire regime gradients. In so doing we will make available a key resource to managers and researchers for the better management of biodiversity under climate change. Critical to this task is the bringing together of researchers to agree on protocols and procedures for the synthesis of plant ‘persistence’ and ‘resistance’ traits. We bring together research and management expertise from Australian tropical, arid, temperate and heathland biomes and high-level data analysts in a working group, to make both the data and models accessible to scientists and managers, and facilitate the application of our results to land management issues.

 

References

Clarke, P.J., Lawes, M.J. & Midgley, J.J. (2010) Resprouting as a key functional trait in woody plants – challenges to developing new organizing principles. New Phytologist 188: 651-654.

Clarke, P.J., Lawes, M.J., Midgley, J.J., Lamont, B.B., Ojeda, F., Burrows, G.E., Enright, N.J. & Knox, K.J.E. (2012) Resprouting as a key functional trait: How buds, protection and resources drive persistence after fire. New Phytologist 197: 19-35.

 

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Differential fire effects on vegetation affecting recovery

 

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Differential fire effects on vegetation affecting recovery

 

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Close-up of epicormic shooting

 

For further information about this Working Group, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

We are sad to announce that the group's co-leader, Assoc. Prof. Peter Clarke of the University of New England, New South Wales, Australia, passed away late in 2014. Associate Professor Peter Clarke was a member of the UNE community for 21 years, amassing a vast knowledge of Australian ecosystems and their responses to fire, as well as a strong international research profile. He  served on the editorial boards of national  and international journals, as well as on the NSW Scientific Committee and the Chief Scientist’s Panel of Experts.

 

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Products and outcomes

 

Final report

 

Using plant functional traits to predict ecosystem vulnerability to changing fire regimes


FINAL REPORT available for download [1.9MB]

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Workshop Reports


Workshop 1 Report (18-22 March 2013)

The first meeting of the ‘Fire and plant traits’ working group focused on Australian fire-prone ecosystems. We discussed the relationship between plant functional traits that confer resistance (bark traits) and resilience (resprouting traits) and ecosystem vulnerability to future fire regimes.

Our working group included participants from Africa, Europe, the USA and Australia; all experts in fire ecology and most with experience of investigating plant functional fire traits.

The following issues were discussed and partly resolved at the first meeting of the Working Group:

 

- We developed a conceptual basis for modelling seeding vs. resprouting response within a pyrogeography framework for Australia; this will assist in deriving indices of ecosystem resilience to fire.
- The proposition that loss of resprouters erodes ecosystem resilience to fire was examined.
- The mapping approach (resprouter:reseeder ratios for ecosystems – based on species abundance data) was supported as a first and important step towards a unifying framework for identifying and predicting post-fire responses (vulnerability vs resilience).
- We agreed to attempt to assemble a national database (plot-based plant species data, attributed by ecosystem type, climatic range, leaf type, phenology, life form, bark ratio, resprouters, resprouting type), building on existing datasets, most notably those managed by Gill, Bradstock and Clarke. These data will be needed to test the “vulnerability/resilience” model and others (e.g. BPR–Clarke et al., 2013) and the database is essential for careful synthesis of the role of plant functional traits in fire ecology.
- Data on bark thickness and resprouter prevalence were collated from the expert knowledge in the group along with datasets they provided.
- We discussed the usefulness of applying the Higgins et al. (2000) modelling approach using data from the NT as a test case.
- The cost of replacement – time to recover prefire biomass – was identified as an important missing element of contemporary resprouting theory and models. The cost of replacement is particularly important for modelling carbon sequestration rates under different fire regimes.
- We also discussed the utility of our prospective models and the use of plant functional traits to management.
- We discussed writing a short concept paper on the Resilience-Resistance- Ecosystem Vulnerability model. It was acknowledged that the latter model is a uniquely Australian perspective, but could have value where applied to specific fire-prone systems such as Brazilian dry forest/savanna and longleaf pine savannas of SE USA.

 

References
Clarke, P.J., Lawes, M.J., Midgley, J.J., Lamont, B.B., Ojeda, F., Burrows, G.E., Enright, N.J. & Knox, K.J.E. (2012) Resprouting as a key functional trait: How buds, protection and resources drive  persistence after fire. New Phytologist. 197: 19-35.
Higgins, S.I., Bond, W.J. & Trollope, W.S.W. (2000) Fire, resprouting and variability: a recipe for grass-tree coexistence in savanna. Journal of Ecology, 88, 213-229.

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Workshop 1 (18-22 March 2013) participants.
From left to right: Jeremy Midgley (University of Capetown, South Africa), Richard Gunton (University of Leeds, UK), Sandy Harrison (Macquarie University), Mike Lawes (Charles Darwin University), Catherine Nano (Department of Land Resource Management, NT), Brett Murphy (University of Melbourne), Ian Radford (WA Department of Environment and Conservation), Jeremy Russell-Smith (Charles Darwin University / Bushfires NT), Peter Clarke (University of New England), Eddie Webber (Charles Darwin University), Ross Bradstock (University of Wollongong), Joe Fontaine (Murdoch University), Jenny Schafer (North Carolina State University, US).

 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 15:36