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Fire weather effects on flammability of indigenous and invasive alien plants in coastal fynbos and thicket shrublands (Cape Floristic Region)

Abstract : Background Globally, and in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, extreme fires have become more common in recent years. Such fires pose societal and ecological threats and have inter alia been attributed to climate change and modification of fuels due to alien plant invasions. Understanding the flammability of different types of indigenous and invasive alien vegetation is essential to develop fire risk prevention and mitigation strategies. We assessed the flammability of 30 species of indigenous and invasive alien plants commonly occurring in coastal fynbos and thicket shrublands in relation to varying fire weather conditions. Methods Fresh plant shoots were sampled and burnt experimentally across diverse fire weather conditions to measure flammability in relation to fire weather conditions, live fuel moisture, fuel load and vegetation grouping (fynbos, thicket and invasive alien plants). Flammability measures considered were: burn intensity, completeness of burn, time-to-ignition, and the likelihood of spontaneous ignition. We also investigated whether the drying of plant shoots (simulating drought conditions) differentially affected the flammability of vegetation groups. Results Fire weather conditions enhanced all measures of flammability, whereas live fuel moisture reduced burn intensity and completeness of burn. Live fuel moisture was not significantly correlated with fire weather, suggesting that the mechanism through which fire weather enhances flammability is not live fuel moisture. It furthermore implies that the importance of live fuel moisture for flammability of evergreen shrublands rests on inter-specific and inter-vegetation type differences in fuel moisture, rather than short-term intra-specific fluctuation in live fuel moisture in response to weather conditions. Fuel load significantly increased burn intensity, while reducing ignitability. Although fire weather, live fuel moisture, and fuel load had significant effects on flammability measures, vegetation and species differences accounted for most of the variation. Flammability was generally highest in invasive alien plants, intermediate in fynbos, and lowest in thicket. Fynbos ignited rapidly and burnt completely, whereas thicket was slow to ignite and burnt incompletely. Invasive alien plants were slow to ignite, but burnt with the highest intensity, potentially due to volatile organic composition. The drying of samples resulted in increases in all measures of flammability that were comparable among vegetation groups. Flammability, and by implication fire risk, should thus not increase disproportionately in one vegetation group compared to another under drought conditions—unless the production of dead fuels is disproportionate among vegetation groups. Thus, we suggest that the dead:live fuel ratio is a potentially useful indicator of flammability of evergreen shrublands and that proxies for this ratio need to be investigated for incorporation into fire danger indices.
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Submitted on : Monday, October 18, 2021 - 10:22:36 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 3, 2021 - 9:48:19 AM

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Samukelisiwe Msweli, Alastair Potts, Herve Fritz, Tineke Kraaij. Fire weather effects on flammability of indigenous and invasive alien plants in coastal fynbos and thicket shrublands (Cape Floristic Region). PeerJ, PeerJ, 2020, 8, pp.e10161. ⟨10.7717/peerj.10161⟩. ⟨hal-03384351⟩

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