The Canberra bushfires of 2003 caused loss of life, destroyed almost 500 homes and burnt almost 70 per cent of the ACT. But for plant ecologist Michael Doherty the intense fires also provided an unanticipated, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to monitor the recovery and resilience of the Australian bush post-fire.
Hidden away in Burrinjuck Nature Reserve, Brindabella National Park and Bimberi Nature Reserve, Mr Doherty and his colleagues had established more than 160 sampling plots across the full range of vegetation types found in the area, as part of a survey for NSW NPWS. At each plot, photographs and detailed measurements of the plant species present and their abundance had been recorded.
When the Canberra bushfires struck in 2003, all but three plots were burnt to a lesser or greater extent. Rather than being a scientific setback, the charred and burnt plots turned into a rare chance of studying the post-fire recovery of an area with solid pre-fire data across a range of fire intensities. Mr Doherty has been re-surveying the plots since 2003 and monitoring their recovery.
“I’m one of the few people who can truthfully say that seeing my work go up in smoke is a valuable thing,” CSIRO plant ecologist Michael Doherty said.
“It’s given us a fascinating insight into the long-term recovery processes that occur when high intensity fires move through an area. Despite an initially barren appearance, 80 per cent of the plant species that occur in the area resprouted after the fires and of the 20 percent that are killed by intense fire, all are recovering from canopy or soil seed stores.
“Across all plots, irrespective of the fire severity, there was an increase in the number of plant species occurring immediately after the fire. This flourishing of plant species peaked in about 2005 and now we’re beginning to see vegetation types making steady progress in becoming similar to what was there before the 2003 fire.
“Our findings show that even after very high intensity fires, the landscape will recover and thrive over time, provided there is an adequate interval between fires for plants to re-sprout or germinate and then grow to maturity,” he said.
Michael Doherty will share more of his experiences of the impact of large-scale fires on the landscape at the Renewal After Fire Workshop being held by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Conservation Council ACT Region in Greenway on 5 February 2011.
What: Renewal After Fire: Bushfire Management Workshop
When: 10 am - 5 pm, Saturday 5 February
Where: Tuggeranong Community Centre, 245 Cowlishaw Street, Greenway, ACT
Other speakers include:
Dr Margaret Kitchin from Conservation Planning and Research and Christine Goonrey from ACT National Parks Association on fire management planning strategy.
Cost: Free, RSVP essential. ContactAnne Miehs on (02) 9516 1488 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org