Relative Importance of fire regimes, environmental gradients and climate change for rainforest distribution in the Sydney Region

This study aims to identify the most important variables determining the current distribution of rainforests in the Sydney region and their implications for management under current and global change conditions.

The distribution of vegetation across landscapes is determined by a range of environmental factors including historical fire regimes, climatic variation, soil fertility and characteristics; topography and water availability. Rainforests appear to be strongly influenced by fire. Although some rainforest species are able to persist after a fire, there is evidence suggesting that frequent and severe fires can eliminate even these species from the landscape.

The Sydney region is one area where the relative high incidence of both natural and anthropogenic fires appears to be in direct conflict with rainforest persistence. Currently, fire management practices in this area aim to protect people and property, while simultaneously maintaining biodiversity values. However, these objectives are often in conflict as prescribed burning for fuel reduction can eliminate rainforest species. This problem is likely to be exacerbated under global change conditions, for which fire frequency and severity have been forecast to increase. Therefore, an investigation that identifies key factors contributing to the persistence of rainforest in this landscape, and how incompatible fire regimes may change rainforest distribution, is vital for the development of optimal management strategies.

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