Fire boosted rare plant growth

Fire boosted rare plant growth

01 September 2011

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Australia — Research by the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s (DSE) Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) following the 2009 bushfires has found a remarkable example of the boom and bust cycle in the Australian bush.

ARI Scientist Arn Tolsma said: “Swamp Bush-pea (Pultenaea weindorferi) is a threatened species of shrub usually found in small numbers in a few swamps and drainage lines around Kinglake and Bunyip – that was, until the fires.”

“Its response to the fires has been nothing short of spectacular with one patch of this plant in the burnt area of the Bunyip State Park now estimated to contain a quarter of a million plants,” Dr Tolsma said.

“It is possible that we have gone from a total population of a few thousand plants before the fires to millions at the moment.”

“The focus of this research project was to investigate the response of a wide range of threatened plants, including the Swamp Bush-pea, as our parks and forests recover from the 2009 fires.”

“A lot of native plants have hard seeds that are stimulated to germinate by the heat or smoke produced by bushfires, and the Swamp Bush-pea seems to be a champion of this response.”

“However, this prolific response won’t change the Threatened status of the plant.”

“This is all part of the natural cycle for many of our remarkable plants. We know that the surrounding vegetation will crowd them out between fires and they will once again become an occasional oddity.”

“The legacy of the millions of plants will be countless seeds that will be stored in the ground, just waiting to strut their stuff when the next fire comes along.”

“Non-native plants might struggle to recover after hot fires like these ones but what we keep finding in this research are examples of the resilience of Australian native plants.”

The research was funded by the Victorian and Commonwealth governments ‘Rebuilding Together’ – Statewide Bushfire Recovery Plan and supported by the Commonwealth’s Caring for Our Country program. It is one of 31 natural values recovery projects on public land which are nearing completion.

The Victorian Government has a responsibility under the Wildlife Act 1975 and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1998 to protect threatened species. These animals and plants contribute significantly to the biodiversity of their ecosystems. The knowledge we acquire about these species helps us to then take the on-ground steps needed to ensure their survival.

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