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Forest Phoenix

Tree ferns were producing new fronds within months of the fire.

Tree ferns were producing new fronds within months of the fire. Credit: Forest Phoenix (CSIRO Publishing)

By David Lindenmayer, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney and Sam Banks

How well have animals and plants recovered after Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires 2 years ago?

David Lindenmayer, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney and Sam Banks of The Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society are authors of Forest Phoenix: How A Great Forest Recovers After Fire, which is published by CSIRO Publishing and available at www.csiropublishing.au

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The February 2009 wildfires were devastating for Victoria and its people – the worst in the nation’s history in terms of lost life and damage to property. The environmental impacts were also profound, and many spectacular stands of forest were burnt, including ones like the giant mountain ash forests where we have worked for more than 27 years. These forests were portrayed in the media as “destroyed”, but they weren’t. They have begun to recover, often in quite spectacular and unexpected ways.

How the Plants Recover
Mountain ash forests are home to hundreds of species of plants, from giant mountain ash trees – the world’s tallest flowering plant – to liverworts and mosses on logs on the forest floor. These different species are characterised by markedly different recovery strategies:

1. Epicormic resprouting. A large proportion of eucalypt species have the ability to resprout even when most of the outer layers of bark are destroyed by fire. Some species are particularly potent resprouters, like shining gum and red stringybark. However, mountain ash has only very limited capacity for epicormic resprouting and is quite sensitive to wildfire.

2. General resprouting. Tree ferns, some of the most charismatic plants in mountain ash forests, resprout from fronds around the crown, creating verdant new green foliage.

3. Rhizomal...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.