Publication Details

Williams, R. J., Bradstock, R. A., Barrett, D., Beringer, J., Boer, M. M., Cary, G. J., Cook, G. D., Gill, A. Malcolm., Hutley, L. B., Keith, H., Maier, S. W., Meyer, C. (Mick)., Price, O., Roxburgh, S. H. & Russell-Smith, J. (2012). Fire regimes and carbon in Australian vegetation. In R. A. Bradstock, A. Malcolm. Gill & R. J. Williams (Eds.), Flammable Australia: Fire Regimes, Biodiversity and Ecosystems in a Changing World (pp. 273-291). Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing.


Fires regularly affect many of the world's terrestrial ecosystems, and, as a result, fires mediate the exchange of greenhouse gases (GHG) between the land and the atmosphere at a global scale and affect the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to store carbon (Bowman et al. 2009). Variations in fire -regimes can therefore potentially affect the global, regional and local carbon balance and, potentially, climate change itself (Bonan 2008). Here we examine how variation in fire regimes (Gill 1975; Bradstock et al. 2002) will potentially affect carbon in fire-prone Australian ecosystems via interactions with the stocks and transfers of carbon that are inherent to all terrestrial ecosystems. There are two key reasons why an appreciation of fire regimes is needed to comprehend the fate of terrestrial carbon. First, the status of terrestrial carbon over time will be a function of the balance between losses (emissions) from individual fires (of differing type, season and intensity), which occur as a result of immediate combustion as well as mortality and longerterm decomposition of dead biomass, and carbon that accumulates during regeneration in the intervals between fires. The length of the interval between fires will determine the amount of biomass that accumulates. Second, fire regimes influence the composition and structure of ecosystems and key processes such as plant mortality and recruitment. Hence, alternative trajectories of vegetation composition and structure that result from differing fire regimes will affect carbon dynamics. We explore these themes and summarise the dynamic aspects of carbon stocks and transfers in relation to fire, present conceptual models of carbon dynamics and fire regimes, and review how variation in fire regimes may affect overall storage potential as a function of fireinduced losses and post-fire uptake in two widespread Australian vegetation types. We then appraise future trends under global change and the likely potential for managing fire regimes for carbon 'benefits', especially with respect to emissions.