Influence of fuel structure derived from terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) on wildfire severity in logged forests
Journal of Environmental Management
Context: Logging and wildfire can reduce the height of the forest canopy and the distance to the understorey vegetation below. These conditions may increase the likelihood of high severity wildfire (canopy scorch or consumption), which may explain the greater prevalence of high severity wildfire in some recently logged or burnt forests. However, the effects of these structural characteristics on wildfire severity have not clearly been demonstrated. Objectives: We aimed to assess how the structure of forests affected by logging and wildfire influence the probability of high severity wildfire. Methods: We used terrestrial laser scanning to measure the connectivity of canopy and understorey vegetation in forests at various stages of recovery after logging and wildfire (approximately 0–80 years since disturbance). These sites were subsequently burnt by mixed severity wildfire during the 2019–20 ‘Black Summer’ fire season in south-eastern Australia. We assessed how these forest structure metrics affected the probability of high severity wildfire. Results: The probability of high severity fire decreased as the canopy base height increased, and the distance between the canopy base and understorey increased. High severity wildfire was less likely in forests with taller understoreys and greater canopy or understorey cover, but these effects were not considered causal. Fire weather was the strongest driver of wildfire severity, which was also affected by topography. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate a link between forest structure characteristics, that are strongly shaped by antecedent logging and fire, and fire severity. They also indicate that vertical fuel structure should be incorporated into assessments of fire risk.
Open Access Status
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Ecological Society of Australia