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Contrasting fire responses to climate and management: insights from two Australian ecosystems

Authors

  • Karen J King,

    1. Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
    2. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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  • Geoffrey J Cary,

    Corresponding author
    1. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    • Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
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  • Ross A Bradstock,

    1. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    2. Centre for Environmental Risk Management, School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia
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  • Jonathan B Marsden-Smedley

    1. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    2. School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia
    3. Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
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Correspondence: Geoff Cary, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 0200, Australia, tel. +61 2 6125 0059, fax +61 2 6125 0746, e-mail: geoffrey.cary@anu.edu.au

Abstract

This study explores effects of climate change and fuel management on unplanned fire activity in ecosystems representing contrasting extremes of the moisture availability spectrum (mesic and arid). Simulation modelling examined unplanned fire activity (fire incidence and area burned, and the area burned by large fires) for alternate climate scenarios and prescribed burning levels in: (i) a cool, moist temperate forest and wet moorland ecosystem in south-west Tasmania (mesic); and (ii) a spinifex and mulga ecosystem in central Australia (arid). Contemporary fire activity in these case study systems is limited, respectively, by fuel availability and fuel amount. For future climates, unplanned fire incidence and area burned increased in the mesic landscape, but decreased in the arid landscape in accordance with predictions based on these limiting factors. Area burned by large fires (greater than the 95th percentile of historical, unplanned fire size) increased with future climates in the mesic landscape. Simulated prescribed burning was more effective in reducing unplanned fire activity in the mesic landscape. However, the inhibitory effects of prescribed burning are predicted to be outweighed by climate change in the mesic landscape, whereas in the arid landscape prescribed burning reinforced a predicted decline in fire under climate change. The potentially contrasting direction of future changes to fire will have fundamentally different consequences for biodiversity in these contrasting ecosystems, and these will need to be accommodated through contrasting, innovative management solutions.

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