Project: Ecosystem Interaction

Effects of fire intensity and aridity on plant resprouting

Plant resprouting is when a plant regrows new shoots, stems and leaves from its existing root system or above-ground biomass after being cut, damaged, or burned. Resprouting is a remarkable survival strategy that allows plants to adapt to changing environmental conditions and recover from disturbance in an efficient and resourceful manner. Many studies have investigated the impacts of fire and drought on plant resprouting throughout the world. However, much less is known about the effects of specific interactions between varying fire intensities and aridity level on grass resprouting in temperate Australia. This project seeks to fill this knowledge gap by investigating how different combinations of fire intensities and dryness levels affect the resprouting capacity of grasses and how different species of grasses respond to these disturbances.

With a focus on grass species native to south-eastern Australia, the study will be based on burning manipulations in both the laboratory and field. The laboratory study will have two levels of drought and three levels of fire intensity. Three selected grass species will be grown in a controlled glasshouse environment and burned with experimental fire of known intensity. Grass response variables will be measured both before and after the burn treatment, to evaluate the effects of varying fire and dryness intensities on resprouting capacity. In the field studies, operational prescribed burns will be used to examine the responses of the same or comparable grass species to real-world conditions.

It is expected that high fire intensity and dryness (before and after fire) will negatively interact to influence grass resprouting ability due to a combination of direct physical damage, dehydration, decreased nutrient availability, and disruptions to plant physiological processes. By comprehensively investigating the impacts of fire intensity and dryness on grass resprouting, this study will contribute to the better understanding of ecosystem responses to changing environmental conditions and provide insights into the adaptive strategies of plants under different disturbance regimes. This knowledge could have significant implications for ecosystem management and conservation efforts in the face of increasing aridity and changing fire regimes in temperate regions.

Project timeline: 06/2023 – 11/2026

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