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A squeeze in the suitable fire interval: Simulating the persistence of fire-killed plants in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem under drier conditions

Henzler, J., Weise, H., Enright, N.J.ORCID: 0000-0003-2979-4505, Zander, S. and Tietjen, B. (2018) A squeeze in the suitable fire interval: Simulating the persistence of fire-killed plants in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem under drier conditions. Ecological Modelling, 389 . pp. 41-49.

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Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs) harbor an exceptionally high biodiversity of vascular plants. At the same time, climatic conditions in many MTE regions are projected to become both drier and hotter, and fire intervals shorter. The Interval Squeeze conceptual model integrates the potential effects of a changing climate and fire regimes on perennial plant population persistence and postulates that warmer, drier conditions will negatively affect multiple plant demographic processes. Dependent on species-specific traits, the required fire intervals that allow for population persistence might become longer, while projected future fire intervals are shorter, leading to a potential mismatch. However, conceptual models are per se not able to quantify outcomes of multiple stochastic processes or to simulate temporal dynamics. Here, we develop a simple, process-based model for a fire-sensitive woody plant species to evaluate the response of demographic processes to future climatic conditions and to quantify the potential impact also of future changes in fire interval. This allowed us to assess key assumptions of the interval squeeze model, particularly in relation to demographic drivers. We simulated populations of Banksia hookeriana, a typical fire-killed shrub found in MTEs of South-West Australia which stores its seeds in a canopy (serotinous) seedbank and shows strong cohort recruitment in the first year after fire. We estimated suitable fixed fire intervals for population persistence under historic climatic conditions and evaluated impacts of a higher dry year frequency (as projected under future climate by two representative concentration pathways, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). Our findings support the Interval Squeeze Model: the fire interval allowing plant population persistence is squeezed from currently 10–28 years to 13–28 years for RCP4.5. For RCP8.5 population persistence is not possible under any of the tested fire intervals because of low seed production and low survival probability of both seedlings and adult plants. The results show that projected drier conditions alone will cause a higher extinction risk for fire-sensitive perennial plant populations in MTEs, which is further pronounced in combination with shorter fire intervals. This will likely lead to a strong shift in community composition and a loss of biodiversity. Fire management practices may need to be modified to attempt to counteract prospective biodiversity loss and ecosystem structure change.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2018 Elsevier B.V.
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