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Post-fire recovery of revegetated woodland communities in south-eastern Australia



The primary goal of restoration is to create self-sustaining ecological communities that are resilient to periodic disturbance. Currently, little is known about how restored communities respond to disturbance events such as fire and how this response compares to remnant vegetation. Following the 2003 fires in south-eastern Australia we examined the post-fire response of revegetation plantings and compared this to remnant vegetation. Ten burnt and 10 unburnt (control) sites were assessed for each of three types of vegetation (direct seeding revegetation, revegetation using nursery seedlings (tubestock) and remnant woodland). Sixty sampling sites were surveyed 6 months after fire to quantify the initial survival of mid- and overstorey plant species in each type of vegetation. Three and 5 years after fire all sites were resurveyed to assess vegetation structure, species diversity and vigour, as well as indicators of soil function. Overall, revegetation showed high (>60%) post-fire survival, but this varied among species depending on regeneration strategy (obligate seeder or resprouter). The native ground cover, mid- and overstorey in both types of plantings showed rapid recovery of vegetation structure and cover within 3 years of fire. This recovery was similar to the burnt remnant woodlands. Non-native (exotic) ground cover initially increased after fire, but was no different in burnt and unburnt sites 5 years after fire. Fire had no effect on species richness, but burnt direct seeding sites had reduced species diversity (Simpson's Diversity Index) while diversity was higher in burnt remnant woodlands. Indices of soil function in all types of vegetation had recovered to levels found in unburnt sites 5 years after fire. These results indicate that even young revegetation (stands <10 years old) showed substantial recovery from disturbance by fire. This suggests that revegetation can provide an important basis for restoring woodland communities in the fire-prone Australian environment.