Climatic, vegetation and edaphic influences on the probability of fire across mediterranean woodlands of south-eastern Australia
Aim We investigated how the probability of burning is influenced by the time since fire (TSF) and gradients of climate, soil and vegetation in the fire-prone mediterranean-climate mallee woodlands of south-eastern Australia. This provided insight into the processes controlling contemporary fuel dynamics and fire regimes across biogeographical boundaries, and the consequent effects of climate change on potential shifts in boundaries between fuel systems and fire regimes, at a subcontinental scale. Location South-eastern Australia. Methods A desktop-based GIS was used to generate random sampling points across the study region to collect data on intersecting fire interval, rainfall, vegetation and soil type. We used a Bayesian framework to examine the effects of combinations of rainfall, vegetation and soil type on the hazard-of-burning and survival parameters of the Weibull distribution. These analyses identify the nature of environmental controls on the length of fire intervals and the age-dependence of the hazard of burning. Results Higher rainfall was consistently associated with shorter fire intervals. Within a single level of rainfall, however, the interaction between soil and vegetation type influenced the length of fire intervals. Higher-fertility sands were associated with shorter fire intervals in grass-dominated communities, whereas lower-fertility sands were associated with shorter fire intervals in shrub-dominated communities. The hazard of burning remained largely independent of TSF across the region, only markedly increasing with TSF in shrub-dominated communities at high rainfall. Main conclusions Rainfall had a dominant influence on fire frequency in the mediterranean-climate mallee woodlands of south-eastern Australia. Predicted changes in the spatial distribution and amount of rainfall therefore have the potential to drive changes in fire regimes, although the effects of soil fertility and rainfall on fire regimes do not align on a simple productivity gradient. Reduced soil fertility may favour plant traits that increase the rate of woody litter fuel accumulation and flammability, which may alter the overriding influence of rainfall gradients on fire regimes.