Effect of fire on the topsoil seed banks of rehabilitated bauxite mine sites in the jarrah forest of Western Australia

Authors

  • By Martin A. Smith,

  • William A. Loneragan,

  • Carl D. Grant,

  • John M. Koch


Abstract

Summary Germinable seed stores of 5- and 8-year-old rehabilitated bauxite mine pits in south-west Western Australia were assessed before and after burning. These seed stores were compared to those of adjacent unmined Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest, to identify at what age fire can be reintroduced, in order to measure restoration success and reduce fire hazard. Soils were sampled in early summer (before fire) and late autumn (after fire). Before fire, the mean topsoil seed bank of 5-year-old sites was 2121 seeds per m2 while 8-year-old sites had a mean of 1520 seeds per m2. Only the 5-year-old sites were significantly different from the forest mean of 1478 seeds per m2 for the same season. After summer burns (and possibly due to seasonal effects) topsoil seed banks of rehabilitated areas (sampled in autumn) decreased by an average of 53 per cent. Topsoil seed banks of 5–8-year-old sites were resistant to lower intensity burns, with 362 seeds per m2 of native species surviving mild burns and 108 seeds per m2 of native species surviving after an intense summer fire. The topsoil seed reserve of 5–8-year-old rehabilitated areas had a high proportion of annual weed species while the forest sites had high levels of subshrubs and native annuals. Low-intensity burns did not alter the composition of life-forms in the soil seed bank, while intense burns favoured annual weed and shrub species. The results indicate that it is not appropriate to introduce fire to rehabilitated areas before 8 years, due to limited fuel reduction benefits and possible adverse effects on obligate seeding species. The large proportion of weed species in the soil seed bank of young rehabilitated areas is a concern, and remains a major consideration for future disturbance of these areas.

Ancillary