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Lack of reliable post-fire recovery mechanisms makes the iconic Tasmanian conifer Athrotaxis cupressoides susceptible to population decline

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Bliss, A, Prior, LD ORCID: 0000-0002-5511-2320 and Bowman, DMJS ORCID: 0000-0001-8075-124X 2021 , 'Lack of reliable post-fire recovery mechanisms makes the iconic Tasmanian conifer Athrotaxis cupressoides susceptible to population decline' , Australian Journal of Botany, vol. 69, no. 3 , pp. 162-173 , doi: 10.1071/BT20117.

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Abstract

Athrotaxis cupressoides is an iconic Tasmanian palaeoendemic conifer that is vulnerable to fire. A survey of three populations burnt by severe fire in 2016, conducted 1 year post-fire, found 33% of stems were still alive, with many surviving stems suffering some canopy scorch. We re-surveyed these populations to quantify delayed mortality, resprouting, and presence of juveniles, and to determine whether fire impacts can be reliably assessed after 1 year. We applied three measures of fire severity: canopy scorched, canopy consumed, and the minimum burnt twig diameter of neighbouring shrubs. We found overall stem survival in 2020 was 31%, and that 97% of stems that were dead 4 years post-fire had died within the first year. Our best predictor of stem mortality was percentage canopy scorched. Overall, 1.8% of burnt stems resprouted, but severely burnt stems did not resprout. Juveniles were present ~9.9% of burnt trees in 2017, and only 1.8% in 2020. We conclude that A. cupressoides stems are not unusually fire sensitive, but rather, that the species’ vulnerability to severe fire results from its lack of reliable recovery mechanisms. This study shows that fire-caused mortality can be reliably assessed 1 year post-fire, and possibly earlier. Interventions such as sowing seed or transplanting seedlings could be necessary to re-establish fire-killed populations.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Bliss, A and Prior, LD and Bowman, DMJS
Keywords: Athrotaxis cupressoides, burnt twig diameter, crown volume scorched, crown volume consumed, delayed mortality, fire-caused mortality, palaeoendemic, regeneration failure, resprout, Tasmania, pencil pine
Journal or Publication Title: Australian Journal of Botany
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
ISSN: 0067-1924
DOI / ID Number: 10.1071/BT20117
Copyright Information:

Journal compilation copyright CSIRO 2021

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