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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 16(3)

Resprouting responses of Acacia shrubs in the Western Desert of Australia – fire severity, interval and season influence survival

Boyd R. Wright A, Peter J. Clarke A B

A Botany, School of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resources Management, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.
B Corresponding author. Email: pclarke1@une.edu.au
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The hummock grasslands of arid Australia are fire-prone ecosystems in which the perennial woody plants mostly resprout after fire. The resprouting ability among these species is poorly understood in relation to environmental variation; consequently, little is known about the impacts that contemporary fire regimes are having on vegetation within these systems. We examined the resprouting ability of adults and juveniles of four widespread Acacia species (A. aneura, A. kempeana, A. maitlandii, A. melleodora) by experimentally testing the effects of fire severity, interval and season. We found that fire severity and season strongly affected survival, but the magnitude of the effects was variable among the species. Unexpectedly, a short fire interval of 2 years did not have a strong negative effect on resprouting of any species. Fire severity had variable effects among the four species, with those species with more deeply buried buds being more resilient to high-severity soil heating than those with shallow buds. Season of fire also strongly affected survival of some species, and we propose that seasonal variation in soil heating and soil moisture mediated these effects. The species by environment interactions we observed within one functional group (resprouters with a soil-stored seed bank) and in one genus suggest that modelling landscape response to fire regimes will be complex in these arid ecosystems. We predict, however, that the dominant resprouting acacias in hummock grasslands of central Australia are highly resilient to a range of fire regimes.

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