A paper titled “Community abundance of resprouting in woody plants reflects fire return time, intensity and type” was recently published in the journal Forests by LEMONTREE’s Yicheng Shen and colleagues. In this study, we aimed to investigate the impact of fire on ecosystems and the adaptive mechanisms of plants, specifically focussing on post-fire resprouting.

Plants in fire-prone ecosystems have evolved various adaptions to cope with fire, and one adaption is post-fire resprouting. This process allows plants to regenerate quickly after fire and promotes rapid ecosystem recovery. It also plays a crucial role in the terrestrial carbon cycle. However, our understanding of how the occurrence of resprouting varies in different fire regimes has been largely qualitative.

To address this knowledge gap, we leveraged the increasing availability of plant trait data and plot-based species cover data. We examined the quantitative relationship between fire frequency, expressed as the fire return time, and the proportion of resprouting species in woody plants. Additionally, we explored the relationship between resprouting and two important vegetation properties: GPP and grass cover. Our study utilised data from plot-based species cover from Australia and Europe. We employed a generalised linear modelling to analyse the relationship between fire-related traits and fire properties. Specifically, we used GPP as a proxy for fire intensity and grass cover as an indicator of ground fire likelihood and fire spread speed.

Our findings revealed significant relationships between fire return time and the proportion of resprouting species. As the fire return time increased, the occurrence of resprouting species decreased. This suggests that resprouting species are less common in ecosystems with longer fire intervals. Moreover, when considering other aspects of the fire regime, such as fire intensity (represented by GPP) and grass cover, we found significant negative relationships between the proportion of resprouting species and fire return time and grass cover. In contrast, a significant positive relationship was observed between the proportion of resprouting species and GPP.

These findings highlight that plants with the ability to resprout are more prevalent in fire regimes characterised by high-frequency and high-intensity crown fires. The establishment of quantitative relationships between the incidence of resprouting and fire return time and fire types provides a basis for modelling resprouting as a consequence of the characteristics of the fire regime. This in turn, enables us to model the consequences of changing fire regimes on ecosystem properties.

Understanding the relationships between fire properties and resprouting is crucial for predicting the effects of changing fire regimes on ecosystems. Our study contributes to quantifying these relationships and provides insights into the dynamics of fire-enabled vegetation and carbon cycling. Incorporating these insights into ecosystem models can enhance our understanding of the effects of climate change and fire on ecosystems and the terrestrial carbon cycle.

The implications of our research are significant for ecosystem management and conservation. By considering the relationships between fire properties and resprouting, we can better predict ecosystem responses to changing fire regimes and climate change. This knowledge can guide the development of effective strategies for fire management and ecosystem restoration.

This paper was funded by the LEMONTREE project and the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. You can read the full article here: Shen, Y., Cai, W., Harrison, S.P. & Prentice, I.C. Community abundance of resprouting in woody plants reflects fire return time, intensity and fire type. Forests, 14(5), 878. https://doi.org/10.3390/f14050878

By Yicheng Shen and Natalie Sanders.