I recently spent some time in the Australian Alps national parks, and had the opportunity of seeing the post-fire recovery and regeneration of the beautiful and unique flora of this area, including snow gums and Alpine ash. The bushfires of January and February 2003 burnt a total of nearly 2 million hectares across the Australian Alps, including 68% of the Australian Alps national parks. Although much of Australia’s biodiversity is adapted to fire, vegetation communities in the alpine zone have evolved to a regime of infrequent and low intensity fires. Increased fire frequency and intensity since European settlement poses a threat to sensitive alpine plants and animals. Since 2003, Parks Agencies have been working on a series of projects investigating aspects of strategic prescribed burning to prevent such a catastrophic even from occurring again, including exploration of appropriate between-fire intervals and different management strategies (such as controlled burns). In areas recovering from high intensity fire (close to Thredbo), we noticed impacts of erosion and weed invasion (in particular sheep sorrel). Integrated pest and weed management following fires is crucial (see an interesting blog by researcher Joslin Moore to read more about the efforts to control invasive willows that established after the 2003 fires), but in areas such as Kosciuszcko National Park where tourism is high (hiking and camping being a popular summer activity), the likelihood of successfully eradicating weeds can be low. There is clearly a need for ongoing research and monitoring in these post-fire environments, especially since climate change predictions suggest fire frequency and intensity will increase.
I am currently conducting similar research in the south-west of Australia, to investigate how the frequency of fires in the proteaceous shrubland of south-western Australia impacts Banksia diversity, and explore the impacts of a range of fire management strategies. Stay tuned for more.