Wildfire and Climate Impacts Tree Hollow Density in a Temperate Australian Forest

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Tree hollows are an important landscape resource used by fauna for shelter, nesting, and predator avoidance. In fire-prone landscapes, wildfire and climate may impact hollow dynamics; however, assessments of their concurrent impacts are rare. We conducted a field survey at 80 sites in the Sydney Basin bioregion (Australia) to understand how fire frequency, fire severity, mean annual temperature, and mean annual precipitation concurrently impacted the site-density of small- (<5 cm entry width), medium- (5–10 cm entry width) and large-size (>10 cm entry width) tree hollows and tree basal scars (which mediate hollow formation via invertebrate access to heartwood), when tree-size and dead/live status were considered. A unimodal relationship occurred between medium- and large-sized hollow densities and fire frequency and severity, respectively, with hollow densities greatest at intermediate frequencies/severities. Increases of 1.82, 1.43, and 1.17 hollows per site were observed between the 1 (reference) and 2, 2 and 3, and 3 and >3 fire frequency categories. Increases of 1.26, 1.75 and 0.75 hollows per site were observed between the low (reference) and moderate, moderate and high, and high and very high fire severity categories. Fire severity was also positively associated with basal scar density, with increases of 2.52, 8.15, and 8.47 trees per site between the low (reference) and moderate, moderate and high, and high and very high categories. A weak positive and stronger negative association was observed between mean annual temperature and small-sized hollow and basal scar density, respectively. Dead and medium-sized tree density was positively associated with medium-sized hollow and basal scar tree density, respectively. Collectively, our results suggest that wildfires, and in some cases climate, have diverse and size-specific impacts on tree hollow and basal scar density. Our results imply that fire regimes that allow for moderately severe wildfire will promote larger-sized tree hollows, which are a limiting resource for many fauna species.

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