Effects of 38 years of wildfires on tree density in the Blue Mountains, Australia

Publication Name

Austral Ecology


Forests are vital for biodiversity, carbon storage and ecosystem services, but can be potentially threatened by fires. Given the significance of forests and fire in a changing climate, research into the long-term effects of fire on forests plays an important role in understanding the global carbon cycle by the forests functioning as a large terrestrial carbon sink or source. In this study, we used aerial photography from 1975 and 2013 to count the change in the number of trees in 560 dry sclerophyll plots (40 × 40m) in the Blue Mountains of Australia. We analysed the relationship between the number of fires and severe fires in that period on the change in numbers of trees. We found that the average response was an increase of 1 tree per plot over 38 years. The number of fires had a small positive effect on tree numbers; plots with 2 or 3 severe fires had 1 and 2 extra trees, respectively, than those without fire. One exception was a severe fire in 2001 that did not show this positive effect, probably because it corresponded with extensive drought. Our findings suggest that number of forest canopy trees is resilient to the number of fires and number of severe fires.

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