Australia – A researcher in Perth is using fibre optics to determine the impact of bushfires on seed survival, in a bid to reduce the incidence of devastating blazes.
Curtin University PhD student Ryan Tangney said his work aimed to influence fire management, including burnoff.
“To better understand the fire regimes suitable for Banksia woodlands, and kind of understand the thermal tolerances, thresholds that seeds have,” he said.
“Prescription burning is really important in land management, particularly in Banksia woodlands where they’re surrounded by people and places and infrastructure, so better understanding how management can influence fire policy and fire regimes in these systems is really important to understand.”
Mr Tangney’s fire experiments have involved laying ultra-thin optic fibre cables in the soil under fuel loads similar to what is found in bushland in WA’s South West.
The cables 50 metres in total were set up in intervals 10 centimetres apart, and once the fire was lit, readings were sent to a laptop.
Mr Tangney said some early findings had been made during the three years of research.
“Preliminary results suggest that moisture matters,” he said.
“So, the wetter the seed, the less resilient it is to temperature.
“This could potentially lead to understanding how seasonal differences of fire in these systems matter.
“Drier seed, it’s more resilient and this kind of might be an evolutionary trait that’s kind of extended from when fire happens normally when the season’s most dry end of summer and early autumn.”
Major fires or a lack of them may impact biodiversity
Researchers should be able to define the temperature thresholds of seeds which ones can survive a fire and which ones cannot.
Kings Park director of science Dr Ben Miller said the eventual findings should help expand knowledge about the impact of bushfires as well as prescribed burning.
“Seeds live in the soil seedbank in Banksia woodlands or in the canopy, stored in the canopy waiting for an event that’s appropriate for them to germinate and often in systems in south-west Australia, that’s related to fire,” he said.
“By being informed about the impacts of management that we undertake helps us come to a more balanced decision.
“We do need to understand the impacts of management that we implement in the landscape, it can have different consequences for different species if we burn in different fire intensities or different seasons.”
Dr Miller said when the Federal Environment Minister listed the Banksia woodlands as a threatened ecological community, “altered fire regimes” were a factor, along with land clearing, climate change, changed hydrology.
It is expected fibre optics can be used for similar experiments in fire-prone areas around the world.
Tropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-peatlands-dwindling-losses.html#jCpTropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.