The fuel–climate–fire conundrum: How will fire regimes change in temperate eucalypt forests under climate change?
Global Change Biology
Fire regimes are changing across the globe in response to complex interactions between climate, fuel, and fire across space and time. Despite these complex interactions, research into predicting fire regime change is often unidimensional, typically focusing on direct relationships between fire activity and climate, increasing the chances of erroneous fire predictions that have ignored feedbacks with, for example, fuel loads and availability. Here, we quantify the direct and indirect role of climate on fire regime change in eucalypt dominated landscapes using a novel simulation approach that uses a landscape fire modelling framework to simulate fire regimes over decades to centuries. We estimated the relative roles of climate-mediated changes as both direct effects on fire weather and indirect effects on fuel load and structure in a full factorial simulation experiment (present and future weather, present and future fuel) that included six climate ensemble members. We applied this simulation framework to predict changes in fire regimes across six temperate forested landscapes in south-eastern Australia that encompass a broad continuum from climate-limited to fuel-limited. Climate-mediated change in weather and fuel was predicted to intensify fire regimes in all six landscapes by increasing wildfire extent and intensity and decreasing fire interval, potentially led by an earlier start to the fire season. Future weather was the dominant factor influencing changes in all the tested fire regime attributes: area burnt, area burnt at high intensity, fire interval, high-intensity fire interval, and season midpoint. However, effects of future fuel acted synergistically or antagonistically with future weather depending on the landscape and the fire regime attribute. Our results suggest that fire regimes are likely to shift across temperate ecosystems in south-eastern Australia in coming decades, particularly in climate-limited systems where there is the potential for a greater availability of fuels to burn through increased aridity.
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Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, State Government of Victoria