Can precipitation influence landscape controls on wildfire severity? A case study within temperate eucalypt forests of south-eastern Australia
The environmental, economic and social impacts of wildfires depend on spatial patterns of fire severity. An understanding as to how drivers of fire severity vary across broad vegetation communities exists. However, examination of variation within communities in response to gradients of moisture has received little attention so far. This study examined whether relationships between environmental variables (i.e. fire weather, topography and fuel age) and fire severity were modified by increasing mean annual precipitation. Understorey fires were more likely to occur in young fuels (i.e. fire) in drier sites, although this effect diminished as precipitation increased. The probability of occurrence of understorey fires under non-extreme weather and on steep slopes was reduced in wetter areas. Relationships between crown fire and weather, topography and fuel age were largely unaltered by the precipitation gradient, with only a marginally significant interaction occurring between weather and mean annual precipitation. Greater fine fuel accumulation associated with increased precipitation presumably reduced fuel limitations imposed by environmental factors (i.e. fire weather, slope, fuel age), altering their relative control on the probability of understorey fire. The probability of crown fires is predominantly driven by fire weather and is consequently less sensitive to precipitation gradients. Consideration of precipitation gradients will be necessary when identifying controls of fire severity and devising effective fire management strategies.
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