Spring fire effects on two Aristida/Bothriochloa native pastures in central Queensland, Australia

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Silcock, RG
Hall, TJ
Jones, P
Filet, PG
Douglas, J
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Controlled burns are commonly used to suppress woody plant regrowth and to remove accumulated unpalatable pasture from rangelands and occasionally to alter pasture composition in native pastures in central Queensland, Australia. Outcomes can be somewhat unpredictable and short-term, and reliable evidence is needed to confirm the likely long-term efficacy of such fires. We imposed a regime of repeated spring burns on native Aristida/Bothriochloa pastures growing in two contrasting eucalypt woodlands of central Queensland to determine the effects on pasture composition, ground cover, landscape stability and woody plant recruitment, all in the absence of grazing. The sites selected were a silver-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus melanophloia F.Muell.) woodland and a poplar box (E. populnea F.Muell.) woodland.

Weather conditions precluded spring burns in 3 years out of 7 at the silver-leaved ironbark site and in 2 years out of 8 at the poplar box site. The burn intensity was variable, and frequent fires produced a marked change in abundance of only a few pasture species. Depending on the site, fires significantly increased the frequency of Enneapogon spp., Bothriochloa bladhii (Retz.) S.T.Blake and Dichanthium sericeum (R.Br.) A.Camus and reduced the frequency of some minor components such as Cymbopogon spp., Panicum effusum R.Br., Cenchrus ciliaris L. and, ephemerally, that of some forbs. Contrary to expectation, only Aristida calycina R.Br. declined in abundance among the many Aristida species present, and the abundance of Heteropogon contortus (L.) P.Beauv. ex Roem. & Schult. barely increased under regular spring fires. The total germinable seeds of herbaceous species in the soil each spring was significantly reduced by burning in the previous spring.

Repeated spring fires rarely reinforced any initial change induced by burning, and slightly lowered average ground cover as well as various indices of landscape stability and ecosystem functionality. Changes produced were not always consistent across the two communities. Though prescribed burning is often important for maintaining grazing productivity and landscape values, very regular use is not recommended.

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Rangeland Journal

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Environmental management

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Life Sciences & Biomedicine

Environmental Sciences & Ecology

Eucalyptus melanophloia

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Silcock, RG; Hall, TJ; Jones, P; Filet, PG; Douglas, J, Spring fire effects on two Aristida/Bothriochloa native pastures in central Queensland, Australia, Rangeland Journal, 2018, 40 (5), pp. 485-500