Biocrusts under fire: post-fire regeneration in an Australian Savanna

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Wendy Williams , Madeline Dooley , Harry Cosgrove , Eli Zaady , Chongfeng Bu, Nicole Carter , David Eldridge , Susanne Schmidt, Robyn Cowley

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In Australia’s northern savanna, fire management research has focused on its effects on grassland regeneration. Less has been done to understand how fires affect the biocrust, a community of cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, fungi, and other microbes that live on the soil’s surface. Passive restoration of a burnt dryland savannas relies heavily on the ecosystem services provided by biocrusts, especially soil stabilization and nitrogen fixation. This project was located at Kidman Springs Research Station, where a fire management program had been established over the past 28 years. Samples were collected from two different soil types, burnt every two, four and six years with either cool or hot fires. Microcosms collected from before fire and after fire were regrown under conditions simulating the wet season. Over 30 days, biocrust function was measured by photosynthetic yield where the rate of recovery was significantly faster in the burned treatments than the unburned treatments and higher in the grass patches than the open inter-patches. Yet, the biocrust biomass was significantly lower in the burnt samples compared to the unburnt samples. At the end of the recovery period, late dry season (hot) fires resulted in significantly lower percentages of nitrogen and carbon compared to early dry season (cool) fires. All other factors had insignificant effects on biomass, carbon, and nitrogen. Fire and drought have a long-term effect on the functional integrity of the dry savannas. Seasonal fire management strategies and post-fire restoration can be facilitated by informed practices such as post-fire wet season grazing exclusion.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program