The NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub webinar series presents the research projects undertaken by the Hub to assist the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, 2020. The Hub supported the inquiry by providing analysis, technical and scientific advice and recommendations to ensure the inquiry has actionable, evidence based and rigorous information.
The fourth webinar of the series is Impacts of the 2019/20 fires on vegetation communities and threatened species.
The extent and extreme severity of the 2019/20 fires, and the interacting pressures of drought, disease and anthropogenic disturbances, in combination with legacies of previous fires, means that post-fire recovery of some ecosystems could be slow or completely impeded, while others will undergo long-term transformational changes. The vast area burnt is reflected in the extent to which entire ecosystems were affected, with fire boundaries overlapping extensively with the distributions of major vegetation formations including rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests. For example, in NSW around half of all wet sclerophyll and heathland vegetation is estimated to have been burnt in 2019-2020, as well as high proportions of rainforests, dry sclerophyll forests and alpine vegetation.
Several fire-related threats to biodiversity are closely linked to climate change, which is increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts, and exacerbating fire interval squeeze. High fire frequencies are known to interrupt life cycles, reduce regenerative capacity, transform habitat structure and increase exposure to invasive species. The extent of this season’s fires means that relatively few areas remain in a mature state, amplifying risk of high frequency fire regimes. On-ground assessment of the impacts and recovery response is essential to inform priorities for restorative action and adaptive strategies for fire management to reduce risks to Australia’s unique environmental assets in an uncertain future.
Presenters: Dr Mark Ooi, Professor David Keith, Tom Le Breton (University of New South Wales)