Climate change affecting regeneration after bushfires

05 October 2021 | News

Climate change may be disrupting the plant regeneration which often follows devastating bushfires, according to new research by a team including LU Associate Professor, Tim Curran.

The research appeared in the journal Plant, Cell and Environment, and was accompanied by an article in The Conversation.

Looking at Australia after the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires which swept through the country, the research examines how fire-adapted species are able to regenerate after the blazes, through resprouting or recovery from seeds, depending on the level of devastation.

However, the increased frequency of the fires, and the earlier in the season that fires are occurring, both attributed to climate change, may be a transition the plants cannot adapt to for numerous reasons.

Trees may be too immature to produce seeds before they are burnt again, while the increased temperatures climate change is inducing could cause stress, leading to plants not having the reserves to resprout leaves or produce seeds.

Seeds in the ground may sprout early in the 40C plus temperatures associated with heatwaves, growing before the fires start, rather than after, hence being burnt.

The growth of new foliage following fire or drought is also tasty to insects. If pest insect outbreaks occur after fire, they may remove all the leaves of recovering plants, possibly resulting in their death.

Heatwaves can also reduce the quality of seeds by deforming their DNA, possibly affecting seed germination after fire.

The paper calls for more research to properly gauge the possible long-term effects of climate change on plants in a more fire-prone world.

Associate Professor Curran is a Plant ecologist at Lincoln University. Find out more about studying ecology.