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Fire impacts on restored shrublands following mining for heavy metals near Eneabba southwestern Australia

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Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Ecology

Abstract

In many parts of the world, it is inevitable that fire will return as a natural disturbance factor to vegetation restored on anthropogenically-disturbed lands. Therefore, assessment of the ultimate success of restoration programs should include the ways in which these ecosystems respond to such natural disturbances. We compared the response of vegetation to experimental fires on post-mine restored and nearby natural shrubland communities in a Mediterranean-climate region of Australia. Pre and post-fire perennial species composition was assessed in 40 x 40 m plots at three shrubland sites restored after mineral sand-mining, and at five natural shrubland sites. Species richness fell by 22–41% after fire in restored sites, but increased by 4–29% in natural sites. Species present before fire were reduced by 40–56% in restored sites and 4–12% in natural sites. Only 42–66% of resprouting species recovered in restored sites, whereas 96–100% recovered in natural sites. Nonsprouting species recruitment was also lower in restored (18–57%) than natural (67–85%) sites. PCoA ordination showed that fire altered the floristic composition of restored sites much more than of natural sites, and their vegetation diverged further from the targeted properties of natural communities. Our study highlights the importance of including the ability of post-anthropogenically altered lands to recover from natural disturbances in determining the success of restoration programs.

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