Ecological - Second Order
Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
Setting suitable conservation targets is an important part of ecological fire planning. Growth-stage optimisation (GSO) determines the relative proportions of post-fire growth stages (categorical representations of time since fire) that maximise species diversity, and is a useful method for determining such targets. Optimisation methods can accommodate various predictor variables, but to date have only been applied using post-fire growth stages as the primary landscape variable. However, other aspects of fire regimes such as severity may influence species diversity but have not yet been considered in determining conservation targets in fire planning. Here we use a space-for-time substitution to address two objectives, 1. To determine the effects of growth stage and fire severity on plant and vertebrate species’ occurrence, and 2. To determine the optimal mix of growth stages and fire severities for sustaining the diversity of these groups. We used the tall wet forests of southeast Australia as the focal system because fire severity is expected to create distinct successional pathways and influence species’ responses. We found that growth stage predicted the occurrence of many species, and severity of the most recent fire was an important factor over and above growth stage for a small subset of species. The optimal distribution of growth stages for both plants and animals included a substantial proportion of young forest, however when fire severity was considered, areas burned at low severity were most important in driving the diversity of both groups. Growth stage is a good surrogate for developing conservation targets in tall wet forests, however growth stage alone does not capture the full range of species’ fire responses. More complex versions of growth stage optimisation that accommodate multiple fire-regime variables need to be explored to yield ecologically meaningful conservation goals.