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Keywords:

  • Eucalyptus;
  • Experimental fire;
  • Foliar nutrients;
  • Herbivory;
  • Long term;
  • Prescribed fire

Abstract

Question: What is the effect of frequent low intensity prescribed fire on foliar nutrients and insect herbivory in an Australian eucalypt forest?

Location: Lorne State Forest (Bulls Ground Frequent Burning Study), mid-north coast, New South Wales, Australia.

Methods: Eighteen independent sites were studied representing three experimental fire regimes: fire exclusion (at least 45 years), frequently burnt (every 3 years for 35 years) and fire exclusion followed by the recent introduction of frequent burning (two fires in 6 years). Mature leaves were collected from the canopy of Eucalyptus pilularis trees at each site and analysed for nutrients and damage by invertebrate herbivores.

Results: Almost 75% of all leaves showed some signs of leaf damage. The frequency of past fires had no effect on carbon and nitrogen content of canopy leaves. These results were consistent with assessments of herbivore damage where no significant differences were found in the amount of invertebrate herbivory damage to leaves across fire treatments.

Conclusions: This eucalypt forest displayed a high degree of resilience to both frequent burning and fire exclusion as determined by foliar nutrients and damage by insect herbivores. Fire frequency had no detectable ecological impact on this aspect of forest health.