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

Fire regime (recency, interval and season) changes the composition of spinifex (Triodia spp.)-dominated desert dunes

Boyd R. Wright A and Peter J. Clarke A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Botany, School of Rural and Environmental Sciences, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: pclarke1@une.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 55(7) 709-724 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT06240
Submitted: 15 December 2006  Accepted: 3 August 2007   Published: 15 November 2007

Abstract

Between 2000 and 2002, central Australia experienced the largest fire season in three decades when ~500 000 km2 burned. The effects of these and preceding wildfires in the 1980s on spinifex (Triodia spp.) sand-ridge plant communities were examined at 38 sites in central Australia. We used both multivariate and univariate techniques to assess floristic differences among sites of contrasting time-since-fire, fire season and fire interval. Time-since-fire had a consistent floristic influence across the landscape, with increased abundances of ephemeral grasses and forbs and Triodia seedlings, and species richness soon after fire but decreasing long after fire. Fire season had little effect on most functional groups of plants, although seedlings of woody species were significantly more abundant following summer than winter fires. Likewise, recent short fire intervals appeared to have little impact on the population dynamics of most functional groups, although some transient effects were observed on abundances of ephemeral forbs, Triodia seedlings and herbaceous clonal species. Long-term woody species abundances appeared to be affected by short fire intervals in the 1980s when repeated fires seemed to stimulate recruitment of some resprouting species. The present study highlighted the relative stability of spinifex vegetation types in the face of landscape-scale pyric perturbation, but emphasised that localised shifts in the composition and structure of the plant community may occur under certain fire regimes.


Acknowledgements

This study was funded by an Australian Post graduate Award (APA) scholarship and an NCW Beadle award to BRW. We thank Cathy Nano and Richard Willis for their comments on the draft manuscript and Dave Albrecht, Grant Allen and Peter Latz for their knowledge and support. Appreciation is also extended to the Haasts Bluff community for their support, and special thanks go to Herbert Multa, Derek Dixon, Alice Nampitjimpa, Kumenjai Dixon and Jacob Hayes for their company and assistance over the many months of fieldwork undertaken in this project. The Northern Territory Central Lands Council, the Jugadai family and Douglas Multa, are also thanked for their permission to conduct research on Aboriginal freehold land.


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Appendix 1.  Abundances of species used in supplementary data matrices for redundancy analysis (RDA) and generalised liner model (GLM) analyses
Species with * indicate mean count data across sites, all other species are mean ‘frequency score’ data across sites. Functional fire-response groups: FE, fire ephemera; CF, clonal forb; R, resprouter; OS, obligate seeder; Se, serotinous tree; T, Triodia species. Growth form categories: F, forb; G, grass; S, shrub; T, tree. Fire interval (1980s) categories are: SFI, short fire interval during the 1980s; NSFI, no short fire interval during the 1980s. Recent fire interval (2000–2002) categories: RSFI, recent short-fire-interval; NRSFI, no recent-short-fire-interval. Season categories: sum., summer; wint., winter
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