Fire regimes and vegetation sensitivity analysis: an example from Bradshaw Station, monsoonal northern Australia
Cameron Yates and Jeremy Russell-Smith
International Journal of Wildland Fire
12(4) 349 - 358
Published: 28 November 2003
The fire-prone savannas of northern Australia comprise a matrix of mostly fire-resilient vegetation types, with embedded fire-sensitive species and communities particularly in rugged sandstone habitats. This paper addresses the assessment of fire-sensitivity at the landscape scale, drawing on detailed fire history and vegetation data assembled for one large property of 9100 km2, Bradshaw Station in the Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia. We describe (1) the contemporary fire regime for Bradshaw Station for a 10 year period; (2) the distribution and status of 'fire sensitive' vegetation; and (3) an assessment of fire-sensitivity at the landscape scale. Fire-sensitive species (FSS) were defined as obligate seeder species with minimum maturation periods of at least 3 years. The recent fire history for Bradshaw Station was derived from the interpretation of fine resolution Landsat MSS and Landsat TM imagery, supplemented with mapping from coarse resolution NOAA-AVHRR imagery where cloud had obstructed the use of Landsat images late in the fire season (typically October–November). Validation assessments of fire mapping accuracy were conducted in 1998 and 1999. On average 40% of Bradshaw burnt annually with about half of this, 22%, occurring after August (Late Dry Season LDS), and 65% of the property burnt 4 or more times, over the 10 year period; 89% of Bradshaw Station had a minimum fire return interval of less than 3 years in the study period. The derived fire seasonality, frequency and return interval data were assessed with respect to landscape units (landsystems). The largest landsystem, Pinkerton (51%, mostly sandstone) was burnt 41% on average, with about 70% burnt four times or more, over the 10 year period. Assessment of the fire-sensitivity of individual species was undertaken with reference to data assembled for 345 vegetation plots, herbarium records, and an aerial survey of the distribution of the long-lived obligate-seeder tree species Callitris intratropica. A unique list of 1310 plant species was attributed with regenerative characteristics (i.e. habit, perenniality, resprouting capability, time to seed maturation). The great majority of FSS species were restricted to rugged sandstone landforms. The approach has wider application for assessing landscape fire-sensitivity and associated landscape health in savanna landscapes in northern Australia, and elsewhere.
Full text doi:10.1071/WF03019
© IAWF 2003