Ecological consequences of high frequency fires - key threatening process listing

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to support a proposal to list 'High frequency fire resulting in the disruption of life cycle processes in plants and animals and loss of vegetation structure and composition' as a KEY THREATENING PROCESS on Schedule 3 of the Act. Listing of Key Threatening Processes is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. Plants and animals have a range of mechanisms to survive individual fires. The long-term survival of plants and animals over repeated fires is dependent upon two key features: i) the ability of species to maintain life cycle processes; and, ii) the maintenance of vegetation structure over time as habitat for animal species. Where fires occur very close together in time (high frequency fire) both these key features can be disrupted.

2. High frequency fire is defined as two or more successive fires close enough together in time to interfere with or limit the ability of plants or animals to recruit new individuals into a population, or for plants to build-up a seedbank sufficient in size to maintain the population through the next fire. Sustained high frequency fire will consequently lead to a loss of plant species, a reduction in vegetation structure and a corresponding loss of animal species. While most communities are likely to have some tolerance to two fires at a high frequency (one short inter-fire interval), what must be avoided is a sustained sequence of such closely spaced fires. Other components of the fire regime (e.g., infrequent fire) may also be a threat in some circumstances, but this determination deals specifically with high frequency fire.

3. The threat of high frequency fire will occur in all fire-prone habitats in New South Wales, although the likelihood of occurrence of high frequency fire is currently greatest in coastal and tableland habitats and in urban areas. No one time limit can be used as an acceptable time between fires for the maintenance of biodiversity across the State of New South Wales; i.e., it is not possible to say all fire intervals should be greater than say 5 years across New South Wales. This is because in different parts of the State the timing of critical life history processes will be different. The specific frequency of fire that will be detrimental to a species or community will vary from place to place, depending upon the survival mechanisms that the species or community exhibit, and local conditions. The number of fires over any set time period that will constitute a detrimental high fire frequency will therefore be location and community specific.

4. High frequency fire and inappropriate fire regimes (which largely equates to too high a fire frequency) have been identified as threats to a number of species and communities listed on Schedule 1 or 2 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act, including:

Ecological Communities

  • Ben Halls Gap National Park Sphagnum Moss Cool Temperate Rainforest
  • Duffys Forest
  • Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub
  • Kurnell Dune Forest
  • O'Hares Creek Shale Forest
  • Pittwater Spotted Gum Forest
  • Other listed endangered ecological communities, including Cumberland Plain Woodland, Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, Blue Gum High Forest, Elderslie Banksia Scrub Forest, Genowlan Point Allocasuarina nana heathland, Sydney Coastal River-flat Forest, Shale/Sandstone Transition Forest and Cooks River Clay Plain Scrub Forest are all likely to suffer a loss of species if subject to repeated high frequency fires, based on current knowledge of the response of species to fire in the Sydney Region.
  • Acacia bynoeana
  • Acacia courtii
  • Acacia macnuttiana
  • Acacia pubifolia
  • Acacia ruppii
  • Acrophyllum australe
  • Almaleea cambagei
  • Apatophyllum constablei
  • Asterolasia elegans
  • Boronia granitica
  • Boronia repandra
  • Calitris oblonga
  • Cynanchum elegans
  • Darwinia biflora
  • Elaeocarpus williamsianus
  • Epacris hamiltonii
  • Eucalyptus nicholii
  • Grevillea banyabba
  • Grevillea beadleana
  • Grevillea caleyi Grevillea mollis
  • Grevillea rivularis
  • Grevillea scortechinii ssp. sarmentosa
  • Grevillea shiressii
  • Haloragodendron lucasii
  • Homaranthus lunatus
  • Lasiopetalum joyceae
  • Leptospermum thompsonii
  • Melichrus hirsutus
  • Phaius australis
  • Phaius tancarvilliae
  • Phebalium glandulosum ssp. eglandulosum
  • Phebalium lachnaeoides
  • Pimelea spicata
  • Pterostylis gibbosa
  • Pultenaea sp. Olinda
  • Styphelia perileuca
  • Swainsona plagiotropis
  • Velleia perfoliata
  • Zieria involucrata
  • Calyptorhynchus lathami (Glossy Black-Cockatoo)
  • Dasyornis brachypterus (Eastern Bristlebird)
  • Leipoa ocellata (Mallee Fowl)
  • Pezoporus wallicus (Ground Parrot)
  • Aepyprymnus rufescens (Rufous Bettong)
  • Dasyurus maculatus (Spotted-tailed Quoll)
  • Dasyurus viverrinus (Eastern Quoll)
  • Isoodon obesulus (Southern Brown Bandicoot)
  • Macropus dorsalis (Black-striped Wallaby)
  • Macropus parma (Parma Wallaby)
  • Ningaui yvonneae (Southern Ningaui)
  • Petaurus norfolcensis (Squirrel Glider)
  • Potorous tridactylus (Long-nosed Potoroo)
  • Potorous longipes (Long-footed Potoroo)
5. A number of plant species now considered to be nationally rare (Briggs & Leigh 1996 - Rare or Threatened Australian Plants, CSIRO, Canberra) have been identified as being threatened by high fire frequency. For these species, which have restricted distributions, losses of additional sites are likely to lead to the species becoming threatened. Such species include:
  • Acacia brunioides ssp. granitica
  • Acacia latisepala
  • Babingtonia odontocalyx
  • Boronia serrulata
  • Darwinia diminuta
  • Darwinia glaucophylla
  • Darwinia procera
  • Dodonaea hirsuta
  • Eucalyptus burgessiana
  • Eucalyptus rupicola
  • Eucalyptus luehmanniana
  • Grevillea longifolia
  • Hakea macrorrhyncha
  • Melaleuca deanii
  • Phebalium ambiens
  • Philotheca myoporoides ssp. epilosa
6. Populations of certain common plant and animal species could become threatened by high frequency fire. Some examples of mammals include:
  • Acrobates pygmaeus (Feathertail Glider)
  • Antechinus flavipes (Yellow-footed Antechinus)
  • Antechinus swainsonii (Dusky Antechinus)
  • Cercartetus nanus (Eastern Pygmy Possum)
  • Isoodon macrourus (Northern Brown Bandicoot)
  • Perameles nasuta (Long-nosed Bandicoot)
  • Pseudocheirus peregrinus (Common Ringtail Possum)
  • Petaurus breviceps (Sugar Glider)
  • Pseudomys novaehollandiae (New Holland Mouse)
7. Listing of 'High frequency fire resulting in the disruption of life cycle processes in plants and animals and loss of vegetation structure and composition' will be of significant conservation value as it will trigger consideration of this key threatening process in the environmental assessment process. Development of a threat abatement plan in New South Wales for the threat of high fire frequency is both desirable and achievable. Such a plan would allow the incorporation of conservation guidelines with respect to high frequency fire, where known, to be incorporated into fire plans of management and risk plans as well as the development of monitoring programs to assist in identifying detrimental high fire frequencies.

8. In view of 4, 5 and 6 above the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that 'High frequency fire resulting in the disruption of life cycle processes in plants and animals and loss of vegetation structure and composition' adversely affects two or more threatened species or ecological communities and it could cause species that are not threatened to become threatened.

Proposed Gazettal date: 24/3/00

Exhibition period: 24/3/00 - 28/4/00

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Page last updated: 13 December 2013