School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences - Research Publications

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    Frequent wildfires erode tree persistence and alter stand structure and initial composition of a fire-tolerant sub-alpine forest
    Fairman, TA ; Bennett, LT ; Tupper, S ; Nitschke, CR ; Ward, D (WILEY, 2017-11-01)
    QUESTION: Frequent severe wildfires have the potential to alter the structure and composition of forests in temperate biomes. While temperate forests dominated by resprouting trees are thought to be largely invulnerable to more frequent wildfires, empirical data to support this assumption are lacking. Does frequent fire erode tree persistence by increasing mortality and reducing regeneration, and what are the broader impacts on forest structure and understorey composition? LOCATION: Subâ alpine open Eucalyptus pauciflora forests, Australian Alps, Victoria, Australia. METHODS: We examined tree persistence and understorey composition of E. pauciflora open forests that were unburned, burned once, twice or three times by highâ severity wildfires between 2003 and 2013. At each of 20 sites (five per fire frequency class) we assessed extent of topâ kill and mortality of eucalypt clumps, spatial configuration of surviving and dead clumps, densities of new and lignotuberous eucalypt seedlings, and shrub and grass cover. RESULTS: At least 2 yr after the last wildfire, proportions of topâ killed E. pauciflora stems were significantly higher, and densities of live basal resprouts significantly lower, at sites burned two or three times compared to once burned or unburned sites. Clump death increased to 50% of individuals at sites burned by three shortâ interval wildfires, which led to changes in live tree patchiness, as indicated by nearestâ neighbour indices. Increased tree mortality was not offset by seedling recruitment, which was significantly lower at the twiceâ and thriceâ burned sites relative to singleâ burn sites â although seedling recruitment was also influenced by topography and coarse woody debris. In addition to changes in the tree layer, the prominence of understorey shrubs was substantially reduced, and the frequency of grasses markedly increased, after two, and particularly three wildfires. CONCLUSIONS: Our study provides strong empirical evidence of ecologically significant change in E. pauciflora forests after shortâ interval severe wildfires, namely, erosion of the persistence niche of resprouting trees, and a shift in understorey dominance from shrubs to grasses. Our findings highlight the need to consider the impacts of compounded perturbation on forests under changing climates, including testing assumptions of longâ term persistence of resprouterâ dominated communities.
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    Structural diversity underpins carbon storage in Australian temperate forests
    Aponte, C ; Kasel, S ; Nitschke, CR ; Tanase, MA ; Vickers, H ; Parker, L ; Fedrigo, M ; Kohout, M ; Ruiz-Benito, P ; Zavala, MA ; Bennett, LT ; Hickler, T (WILEY, 2020-02-11)
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    Climate extreme variables generated using monthly time-series data improve predicted distributions of plant species
    Stewart, SB ; Elith, J ; Fedrigo, M ; Kasel, S ; Roxburgh, SH ; Bennett, LT ; Chick, M ; Fairman, T ; Leonard, S ; Kohout, M ; Cripps, JK ; Durkin, L ; Nitschke, CR (WILEY, 2021-02-02)
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    Predicted consequences of increased rainfall variability on soil carbon stocks in a semiarid environment
    Forouzangohar, M ; Setia, R ; Wallace, DD ; Nitschke, CR ; Bennett, LT (INTER-RESEARCH, 2016-01-01)
    Research on the impacts of climate change on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks has focused on the effects of changes in average climate, but the potential effects of increased climate variability, including more frequent extreme events, remain under-examined. In this study, set in a semiarid agricultural landscape in southeastern Australia, we used the Rothamsted carbon (RothC) model to isolate the effects of interannual rainfall variability on SOC stocks over a 50 yr period. We modelled SOC trends in response to 3 scenarios that had the same 50 yr average climate but different interannual rainfall distributions: non-changing average climate, historic variability (H), and increased variability due to more frequent extreme rainfall years (XH). Relative to the non-changing average climate, RothC simulations predicted net decreases in mean SOC stocks to 50 yr of 11% under the H scenario and 13% under the XH scenario. These decreases were the result of predicted SOC decreases (and increased CO2 emissions) in extreme wet years (ca. 0.26 Mg ha(-1) yr(-1)) that were not counterbalanced by SOC increases in extreme dry years (ca. 0.11 Mg ha(-1) yr(-1)). No significant difference in mean SOC stocks at 50 yr between the H and XH scenarios was likely due to an increase in both extreme wet and counterbalancing extreme dry years in the latter. Strong negative correlations were found between annual changes in SOC stocks and rainfall. Our modelled predictions indicate the potential for extreme rainfall years to influence SOC gains and losses in semiarid environments and highlight the importance of maintaining plant inputs in these environments, particularly during extreme wet years.
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    Psychological values and cues as a basis for developing socially relevant criteria and indicators for forest management
    Ford, RM ; Anderson, NM ; Nitschke, C ; Bennett, LT ; Williams, KJH (Elsevier BV, 2017-05-01)
    Criteria and indicators (C & I) have proven an essential tool for managers implementing sustainable forest management, but have been less effective for communication with the wider community. We demonstrate a new bottom-up approach to developing socially relevant C & I using social analysis and psychology-based concepts and methods. Our conceptual framework links the concepts of valued attributes and environmental cues with, respectively, criteria and indicators. We illustrate our approach using thirty-six semi-structured interviews of individual members of the general public and of stakeholder groups in Victoria, southern Australia. The interviews included a modified cognitive mapping task to identify attributes of forests valued by the interviewees, as well as cues used by them to know if a valued attribute was present or had changed. Seven broad valued attributes of forests were identified: Natural; Experiential; Productive; Setting; Social/Economic; Learning; and Cultural. Four broad categories of cues were identified: Biophysical; Social/Psychological; Economic; and Management/Planning. Cues were translated into a set of measurable ‘socially relevant’ indicators of forest management. Comparison with existing frameworks revealed some similarities, but that an important component of public evaluations, Experiential and Setting valued attributes, was largely absent from C & I used in Victoria, which are based on the Montreal Process framework. Some socially relevant indicators aligned with existing indicators, but others were poorly represented, particularly sensory indicators that are concerned with subjective experiences of forests. Our approach demonstrates a new way of developing C & I and has a strong conceptual basis that enables more explicit consideration and communication of a comprehensive range of social values and cues in environmental management systems.