The burnt lands

I can hardly bring myself to write this post. Contemplating all those lives – plants, animals and others – perishing in the intense fires is painful. But Nature did this and Nature will float, crawl, bounce and grow back in some form over time, even if the present ecosystem (especially that of pencil pines in the Central Plateau) does not come back.

Past the Balfour turnoff on the way to Corinna

Past the Balfour turnoff on the way to Corinna

Tasmania had an exceptionally dry and warm few months over spring and summer 2015/2016. Dry lightning strikes (where there is little accompanying rain) ignited more than 70 fires in the World Heritage Area and other wilderness areas.

We were privileged to be allowed into the ‘no go zone’, the road to Corinna, by prior arrangement via our palaeobotanists, Associate Professor Greg Jordan and Associate Professor Mike Macphail (who was a colleague of mine at the South Australian Museum).

On the Corinna road

Greg (left) and Mike (right) hasn't seen the burn at close range before. The road provided a fire break in this area.

Greg (left) and Mike (right) hadn’t seen the burn at close range before. The road provided a fire break in this area, preventing it from catching on the right.

 

Greg tells us a bit about how plants respond to fire

Greg tells us a bit about how plants respond to fire.

Some grass species, whose growing points were below ground level and so survived the fire, were regrowing after the recent rains.

Grass regrowth

The metal edge markers along this section had all melted.

Melted edge markers

Even worse further along, in the very intense fire …

Melted metal

 

Burn_1

The haze is smoke from the peat still burning. It’s not expected to go out until winter.

Burn_7

Ferns start to regrow quickly as their growing points lie below ground level and tend to survive fire.

Burn_6

Greg talks about adaptations of trees to fire.

Greg talks about adaptations of trees to fire.

Greg explained that trees respond to fires in several ways (knowledgeable botanists, please correct me if I’ve misunderstood him):

  • they survive; or
  • roasted (in very hot fires), they die, dropping their seeds, which germinate with exposure to smoke; or
  • toasted (in cooler fires), they survive and re-shoot from the growing points under the surface of their trunks. These trees tend to have deep roots, too.

Interestingly, “fire surviving” trees tend to have “fire promoting” characteristics.

The level of ground (really ash) in the forest had dropped a metre or more. Greg said this was because the intensity of the fire had destroyed all the organic matter in the soil down to a certain level, and subsequent rain had caused the ash to compress and the “ground” level to drop.

Burn_2

Burn_5The slime mould pictured below is doing well. It may be Fuligo septica, which I just have to mention because I love its common names; according to Sarah Lloyd’s Where the Slime Mould Creeps, they are dog’s vomit slime mould, kwei hi (Chinese, “demon droppings”) and caca de luna (Mexican, “moon shit”).

Slime mould (yellow, centre)

Slime mould (yellow, centre)

Burn on Corinna road_2

On the Corinna road

Burnt heath near Sundown Point, south of Arthur River

Burnt heath near Sundown Point, south of Arthur River

 

Burnt coastal forest near Sunset Point

Burnt coastal forest on sand dunes near Sunset Point

Even more endangeredFire breakThere was no loss of human life, and I suppose that’s something positive. Scientists and interested others will be watching faunal and floral developments in these areas with great attention.

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2 Responses to The burnt lands

  1. janebeau says:

    So similar to our veld fires, especially in the Western Cape’s fynbos. When you buy fynbos seeds at Kirstenbosch Botanical nursery, they are ‘pre-smoked’ – have to be in order to germinate. Sadly though most of our recent fires have not been caused by nature but by those inexplicable type, the arsonists,

  2. Pingback: Alarums and excursions | A-roving I will go

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