Exploring the key drivers of forest flammability in wet eucalypt forests using expert-derived conceptual models
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V. Context: Fire behaviour research has largely focused on dry ecosystems that burn frequently, with far less attention on wetter forests. Yet, the impacts of fire in wet forests can be high and therefore understanding the drivers of fire in these systems is vital. Objectives: We sought to identify and rank by importance the factors plausibly driving flammability in wet eucalypt forests, and describe relationships between them. In doing so, we formulated a set of research priorities. Methods: Conceptual models of forest flammability in wet eucalypt forests were elicited from 21 fire experts using a combination of elicitation techniques. Forest flammability was defined using fire occurrence and fireline intensity as measures of ignitability and heat release rate, respectively. Results: There were shared and divergent opinions about the drivers of flammability in wet eucalypt forests. Widely agreed factors were drought, dead fine fuel moisture content, weather and topography. These factors all influence the availability of biomass to burn, albeit their effects and interactions on various dimensions of flammability are poorly understood. Differences between the models related to lesser understood factors (e.g. live and coarse fuel moisture, plant traits, heatwaves) and the links between factors. Conclusions: By documenting alternative conceptual models, we made shared and divergent opinions explicit about flammability in wet forests. We identified four priority research areas: (1) quantifying drought and fuel moisture thresholds for fire occurrence and intensity, (2) modelling microclimate in dense vegetation and rugged terrain, (3) determining the attributes of live vegetation that influence forest flammability, (4) evaluating fire management strategies.