High severity fire promotes a more flammable eucalypt forest structure
Recent landscape-scale wildfires in eastern Australia have made apparent the need for a greater understanding of the flammability dynamics of forested ecosystems. Fire severity is a measure of the impact of a fire on vegetation, but little is known about the landscape-scale response of the fire-prone dry sclerophyll forests of eastern Australia to different levels of fire severity. Species in these forests have multiple responses to fire, which can be dependent on the fire severity. In this study, we aimed to determine the effect of fire severity on the vegetation structure, and therefore flammability, of these forests. We addressed two hypotheses that 1) High severity fire would result in a denser understory than low severity fire after 5 years and that 2) High severity fire would reduce the vertical separation between understory and canopy after 5 years. Field surveys of 38 forest sites with differing fire severity but standardised time since fire and forest type, in Sydney region of New South Wales, Australia, were used to test these hypotheses. We found lower canopy cover and greater understory cover (0.5–4 m height) after high severity fire compared with sites which burnt at low severity. Vertical separation was less between the canopy and understory at sites after high severity fire than after low severity fire. The greater quantity of understory fuel and greater vertical continuity in fuel structure observed suggests a potential increase in forest flammability after high severity fire compared with lower severity fires in these forest types.
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University of Wollongong