Acacia shrubs respond positively to high severity wildfire: Implications for conservation and fuel hazard management
High severity wildfires pose threats to human assets, but are also perceived to impact vegetation communities because a small number of species may become dominant immediately after fire. However there are considerable gaps in our knowledge about species-specific responses of plants to different fire severities, and how this influences fuel hazard in the short and long-term. Here we conduct a floristic survey at sites before and two years after a wildfire of unprecedented size and severity in the Warrumbungle National Park (Australia) to explore relationships between post-fire growth of a fire responsive shrub genera (Acacia), total mid-story vegetation cover, fire severity and fuel hazard. We then survey 129 plots surrounding the park to assess relationships between mid-story vegetation cover and time-since-fire. Acacia species richness and cover were 2.3 and 4.3 times greater at plots after than before the fire. However the same common dominant species were present throughout the study. Mid-story vegetation cover was 1.5 times greater after than before the wildfire, and Acacia species contribution to mid-story cover increased from 10 to 40%. Acacia species richness was not affected by fire severity, however strong positive associations were observed between Acacia and total mid-story vegetation cover and severity. Our analysis of mid-story vegetation recovery showed that cover was similarly high between 2 and 30 years post-fire, then decreased until 52 years. Collectively, our results suggest that Acacia species are extremely resilient to high severity wildfire and drive short to mid-term increases in fuel hazard. Our results are discussed in relation to fire regime management from the twin perspectives of conserving biodiversity and mitigating human losses due to wildfire.