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

Decades-scale vegetation change in burned and unburned alpine coniferous heath

J. B. Kirkpatrick A D , K. L. Bridle A B and K. J. M. Dickinson A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 78, GPO, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

B Present address: Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 98, GPO, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

C Present address: Botany Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 58(6) 453-462
Submitted: 28 May 2010  Accepted: 19 July 2010   Published: 8 September 2010


Fire appears to be a rare event in alpine vegetation, suggesting that its effects might be more persistent than in most lowland vegetation types. However, it has been suggested that the Australian alpine biota is resilient to infrequent large fires. This paper describes decades-scale vegetation and soil change after fire in paired plots over fire boundaries in Tasmanian alpine coniferous heath. The effect of fire on soils persisted for decades. Recovery of vegetation was extremely slow by global standards, with delayed reinvasion of previously dominant species. There was low cover of the most fire-sensitive species 43–69 years after fire and much bare ground still evident, with the rate of revegetation declining through time. Gymnosperm shrubs increased at the expense of angiosperms in the unburned plots in the same period and cryptogams declined in both burned and unburned plots. These results suggest that the Tasmanian alpine flora cannot be characterised as resilient to infrequent large fire, although most species survive its incidence. The many centuries that it appears are necessary for coniferous heath to recover to its pre-burn state suggest that fires caused by increased ignitions from lightning and arsonists are the major issue for conservation of the vegetation type.


This work was supported by a large grant from the Australian Research Council and a small grant from the University of Tasmania. Soil analyses were undertaken by Allison Laboratories. Jen Styger assisted with the 2010 data collection from Mt Field.


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Appendix 1.  Mean percentage cover values for all plots for all times on each mountain by burned or unburned
The highest value of burned and unburned for each mountain is shown in bold
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