Fuel trait effects on flammability of native and invasive alien shrubs in coastal fynbos and thicket (Cape Floristic Region)

PeerJ. 2022 Jul 28;10:e13765. doi: 10.7717/peerj.13765. eCollection 2022.

ABSTRACT

In June 2017, extreme fires along the southern Cape coast of South Africa burnt native fynbos and thicket vegetation and caused extensive damage to plantations and residential properties. Invasive alien plants (IAPs) occur commonly in the area and were thought to have changed the behaviour of these fires through their modification of fuel properties relative to that of native vegetation. This study experimentally compared various measures of flammability across groups of native and alien invasive shrub species in relation to their fuel traits. Live plant shoots of 30 species (10 species each of native fynbos, native thicket, and IAPs) were sampled to measure live fuel moisture, dry biomass, fuel bed porosity and the proportions of fine-, coarse- and dead fuels. These shoots were burnt experimentally, and flammability measured in terms of maximum temperature (combustibility), completeness of burn (consumability), and time-to-ignition (ignitability). Multiple regression models were used to assess the relationships between flammability responses and fuel traits, while the Kruskal-Wallis H test was used to establish if differences existed in flammability measures and fuel traits among the vegetation groups. Dry biomass significantly enhanced, while live fuel moisture significantly reduced, maximum temperature, whereas the proportion of fine fuels significantly increased completeness of burn. Unlike other similar studies, the proportion of dead fuels and fuel bed porosity were not retained by any of the models to account for variation in flammability. Species of fynbos and IAPs generally exhibited greater flammability in the form of higher completeness of burn and more rapid ignition than species of thicket. Little distinction in flammability and fuel traits could be made between species of fynbos and IAPs, except that fynbos species had a greater proportion of fine fuels. Thicket species had higher proportions of coarse fuels and greater dry biomass (~fuel loading) than species of fynbos and IAPs. Live fuel moisture did not differ among the vegetation groups, contrary to the literature often ascribing variation in flammability to fuel moisture differences. The fuel traits investigated only explained 21-53% of the variation in flammability and large variation was evident among species within vegetation groups suggesting that species-specific and in situ community-level investigations are warranted, particularly in regard fuel moisture and chemical contents.

PMID:35919404 | PMC:PMC9339215 | DOI:10.7717/peerj.13765

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