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Data from: Drought then wildfire reveals a compound disturbance in a resprouting forest

Cite this dataset

Walden, Lewis (2022). Data from: Drought then wildfire reveals a compound disturbance in a resprouting forest [Dataset]. Dryad.


The frequency and intensity of forest disturbances such as drought and fire are increasing globally, with an increased likelihood of multiple disturbance events occurring in short succession. Disturbances layered over one another may influence the likelihood or intensity of subsequent events (a linked disturbance) or impact response and recovery trajectories (a compound disturbance), with substantial implications for ecological spatiotemporal vulnerability. This study evaluates evidence for disturbance interactions of drought followed by wildfire in a resprouting eucalypt-dominated forest (the Northern Jarrah Forest) in southwestern Australia.  Sites were stratified by drought (high, low) from previous modelling and ground validation, and fire severity (high, moderate, unburnt) via remote sensing using the relative difference normalised burn ratio (RdNBR). Evidence of a linked disturbance was assessed via fine fuel consumption and remotely sensed fire severity (RdNBR). Compound disturbance effects were quantified at stand scale (canopy height, quadratic mean diameter, stem density) and at the stem scale (mortality).  There was no evidence of prior drought influencing fine fuel consumption or fire severity, hence no evidence of a linked disturbance.  However, compound disturbance effects were evident; stands previously affected by drought experienced smaller shifts in canopy height, quadratic mean diameter, and stem density than stands without prior drought impact. At the stem scale, size and fire severity were the strongest determinants of stem survival. Proportional resprouting height was higher in high drought sites than in low drought sites (p<0.01), thus, structurally, the low drought stands decreased in height more than the high drought stands. Thus, a legacy of the drought was evident after the wildfire. While these resprouting eucalypt forests have been regarded as particularly resilient, this study illustrates how multiple disturbances can overwhelm the larger tree component and promote an abundance of smaller stems. We suggest that this is early evidence of a structural destabilisation of these forests under a more fire prone, hotter and drier future climate.