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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 19(1)

Fire severity in a northern Australian savanna landscape: the importance of time since previous fire

Brett P. Murphy A D, Jeremy Russell-Smith B C

A School of Plant Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS 7000, Australia.
B Bushfires NT, Northern Territory Government, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.
C Tropical Savannas Management Cooperative Research Centre, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: brettpatrickmurphy@hotmail.com
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Using a detailed fire history collected over a 10-year period throughout a savanna landscape in northern Australia, we have addressed the question of whether fire severity, inferred from a semiquantitative fire severity index, increases with time since previous fire. There was a clear trend of fires becoming much more severe with increasing time since previous fire. Between 1 and 5 years following a fire, the probability of a subsequent fire being classified as ‘severe’ increased from 3 to 8% for early dry-season fires, and from 21 to 43% for late dry-season fires. It was clear that the strong increase in fire severity was not confined to the first 2–3 years following the previous fire, as previously suspected. These findings highlight the difficulty of reducing both fire frequency and severity in northern Australian savanna landscapes, as they imply that a negative feedback process exists between the two; that is, reducing fire frequency is likely to increase the severity of fires that do occur.

Keywords: fire intensity, fuel accumulation, tropical savanna.

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