Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Bark traits, decomposition and flammability of Australian forest trees

Saskia Grootemaat A D , Ian J. Wright A , Peter M. van Bodegom B , Johannes H. C. Cornelissen C and Veronica Shaw A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia.

B Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, The Netherlands.

C System Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

D Corresponding author. Email: saskia.grootemaat@live.nl

Australian Journal of Botany 65(4) 327-338 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT16258
Submitted: 16 December 2016  Accepted: 10 May 2017   Published: 4 July 2017

Abstract

Bark shedding is a remarkable feature of Australian trees, yet relatively little is known about interspecific differences in bark decomposability and flammability, or what chemical or physical traits drive variation in these properties. We measured the decomposition rate and flammability (ignitibility, sustainability and combustibility) of bark from 10 common forest tree species, and quantified correlations with potentially important traits. We compared our findings to those for leaf litter, asking whether the same traits drive flammability and decomposition in different tissues, and whether process rates are correlated across tissue types. Considerable variation in bark decomposability and flammability was found both within and across species. Bark decomposed more slowly than leaves, but in both tissues lignin concentration was a key driver. Bark took longer to ignite than leaves, and had longer mass-specific flame durations. Variation in flammability parameters was driven by different traits in the different tissues. Decomposability and flammability were each unrelated, when comparing between the different tissue types. For example, species with fast-decomposing leaves did not necessarily have fast-decomposing bark. For the first time, we show how patterns of variation in decomposability and flammability of bark diverge across multiple species. By taking species-specific bark traits into consideration there is potential to make better estimates of wildfire risks and carbon loss dynamics. This can lead to better informed management decisions for Australian forests, and eucalypt plantations, worldwide.

Additional keywords: decay, Eucalyptus, litter, wildfire.


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