Question. Can strategic burning, targeting differing ecological characteristics of native and exotic species, facilitate restoration of native understorey in weed-invaded temperate grassy eucalypt woodlands?
Location. Gippsland Plains, eastern Victoria, Australia.
Methods. In a replicated, 5-year experimental trial, the effects of repeated spring or autumn burning were evaluated for native and exotic plants in a representative, degraded Eucalyptus tereticornis grassy woodland. Treatments aimed to reduce seed banks and modify establishment conditions of exotic annual grasses, and to exhaust vegetative reserves of exotic perennial grasses. Treatments were applied to three grassland patch types, dominated by the native grass Austrodanthonia caespitosa, ubiquitous exotic annuals, or the common exotic perennial grass Paspalum dilatatum.
Results. The dominant native grass Austrodanthonia caespitosa and native forbs were resilient to repeated fires, and target exotic annuals and perennials were suppressed differentially by autumn and spring fires. Exotic annuals were also suppressed by drought, reducing the overall treatment effects but indicating important opportunities for restoration. The initially sparse exotic geophyte Romulea rosea increased in cover with fire and the impact of this species on native forbs requires further investigation. There was minimal increase in diversity of subsidiary natives with fire, probably owing to lack of propagules.
Conclusions. While fire is often considered to increase ecosystem invasibility, our study showed that strategic use of fire, informed by the relative responses of available native and exotic taxa, is potentially an effective step towards restoration of weed-invaded temperate eucalypt woodlands.