The legacy of mid-holocene fire on a Tasmanian montane landscape

Michael Shawn Fletcher*, Brent B. Wolfe, Cathy Whitlock, David P. Pompeani, Hendrik Heijnis, Simon G. Haberle, Patricia S. Gadd, David M.J.S. Bowman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)


    Aim: To assess the long-term impacts of landscape fire on a mosaic of pyrophobic and pyrogenic woody montane vegetation. Location: South-west Tasmania, Australia. Methods: We undertook a high-resolution multiproxy palaeoecological analysis of sediments deposited in Lake Osborne (Hartz Mountains National Park, southern Tasmania), employing analyses of pollen, macroscopic and microscopic charcoal, organic and inorganic geochemistry and magnetic susceptibility. Results: Sequential fires within the study catchment over the past 6500 years have resulted in the reduction of pyrophobic rain forest taxa and the establishment of pyrogenic Eucalyptus-dominated vegetation. The vegetation change was accompanied by soil erosion and nutrient losses. The rate of post-fire recovery of widespread rain forest taxa (Nothofagus cunninghamii and Eucryphia spp.) conforms to ecological models, as does the local extinction of fire-sensitive rain forest taxa (Nothofagus gunnii and Cupressaceae) following successive fires. Main conclusions: The sedimentary analyses indicate that recurrent fires over several centuries caused a catchment-wide transition from pyrophobic rain forest to pyrophytic eucalypt-dominated vegetation. The fires within the lake catchment during the 6500-year long record appear to coincide with high-frequency El Niño events in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, signalling a potential threat to these highly endemic rain forests if El Niño intensity amplifies as predicted under future climate scenarios.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)476-488
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Biogeography
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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