Climate change reduces resilience to fire in subalpine rainforests

Michela Mariani, Michael-Shawn Fletcher, Simon Haberle, Hahjung Chin, Atun Zawadzki, Geraldine Jacobsen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Climate change is affecting the distribution of species and the functioning of ecosystems. For species that are slow growing and poorly dispersed, climate change can force a lag between the distributions of species and the geographic distributions of their climatic envelopes, exposing species to the risk of extinction. Climate also governs the resilience of species and ecosystems to disturbance, such as wildfire. Here we use species distribution modelling and palaeoecology to assess and test the impact of vegetation�climate disequilibrium on the resilience of an endangered fire-sensitive rainforest community to fires. First, we modelled the probability of occurrence of Athrotaxis spp. and Nothofagus gunnii rainforest in Tasmania (hereon �montane rainforest�) as a function of climate. We then analysed three pollen and charcoal records spanning the last 7,500�cal�year BP from within both high (n�=�1) and low (n�=�2) probability of occurrence areas. Our study indicates that climatic change between 3,000 and 4,000�cal�year bp induced a disequilibrium between montane rainforests and climate that drove a loss of resilience of these communities. Current and future climate change are likely to shift the geographic distribution of the climatic envelopes of this plant community further, suggesting that current high-resilience locations will face a reduction in resilience. Coupled with the forecast of increasing fire activity in southern temperate regions, this heralds a significant threat to this and other slow growing, poorly dispersed and fire sensitive forest systems that are common in the southern mid to high latitudes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2030-2042
    JournalGlobal Change Biology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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