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Multi-year response to historic drought-induced canopy dieback in a Mediterranean-type forest in southwestern Australia

Matusick, G., Ruthrof, K., Fontaine, J. and Hardy, G. (2014) Multi-year response to historic drought-induced canopy dieback in a Mediterranean-type forest in southwestern Australia. In: Sustaining Forests, Sustaining People: The Role of Research XXIV IUFRO World Congress, 5 - 11 October, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Abstract

Although records of forest dieback from drought are becoming increasingly common, little is known about the response of forests to this disturbance. We examined the changes in tree health, forest structure, and composition following an historic drought-induced forest dieback event on severely- and minimally-affected forest plots in the Northern Jarrah Forest of south-western Australia. Forest structure and composition were measured at 0, 16, and 26 months post-disturbance. Tree health dynamics suggest the dieback resulted from severe, acute stress. Overstory trees in severely-affected forest patches responded strongly, with 66% of trees resprouting by 16 months post-dieback. Recruitment of new individuals was higher in severely-affected plots, and living tree densities reached pre-dieback levels by 26 months following the event. On severely-affected plots, large diameter trees that died were replaced by greater numbers of small stems, decreasing the height of forest canopy and creating a dense thicket of regrowth. No direct evidence of forest composition change was detected in overstory trees. We propose that adequate rainfall following the event combined with species adaptation to drought contributed to the rapid response of affected trees. This research highlights the stabilizing properties of Mediterranean-type forests and their resilience in preventing ecosystem-type changes seen elsewhere following drought.

Publication Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/33392
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