Fire severity is more sensitive to low fuel moisture content on Calluna heathlands than on peat bogs

Grau-Andres, R., Davies, G. M., Gray, A., Scott, E. M. and Waldron, S. (2018) Fire severity is more sensitive to low fuel moisture content on Calluna heathlands than on peat bogs. Science of the Total Environment, 616-17, pp. 1261-1269. (doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.10.192) (PMID:29111249)

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Abstract

Moorland habitats dominated by the dwarf shrub Calluna vulgaris provide important ecosystem services. Drought is projected to intensify throughout their range, potentially leading to increased fire severity as moisture is a key control on severity. We studied the effect of low fuel moisture content (FMC) on fire severity by using 2 × 2 m rain-out shelters prior to completing 19 experimental fires in two sites in Scotland (UK): a dry heath with thin organic soils and a raised bog with deep, saturated peat, both dominated by Calluna vulgaris. Reduced FMC of the moss and litter (M/L) layer at both sites, and the soil moisture of the dry heath, increased fire-induced consumption of the M/L layer and soil heating at both sites. Increase in fire severity was greater at the dry heath than at the raised bog, e.g. average maximum temperatures at the soil surface increased from 31 °C to 189 °C at the dry heath, but only from 10 °C to 15 °C at the raised bog. Substantial M/L layer consumption was observed when its FMC was below 150%. This led to larger seasonal and daily soil temperature fluctuation, particularly at the dry heath during warm months. The results suggest that low FMC following predicted changes in climate are likely to increase wildfire severity and that the impact on vegetation composition and carbon stores may be greater at heathlands than at peatlands. Managed burning aiming to minimise fire severity (e.g. ignition of the M/L layer and exposure to lethal temperatures of ericoid seeds) should be carried out when the FMC of the M/L layer is above 150% and the FMC of the soil is above 200–300%.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Waldron, Professor Susan and Scott, Professor E Marian and Grau Andres, Mr Roger
Authors: Grau-Andres, R., Davies, G. M., Gray, A., Scott, E. M., and Waldron, S.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
College of Science and Engineering > School of Mathematics and Statistics > Statistics
Journal Name:Science of the Total Environment
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0048-9697
ISSN (Online):1879-1026
Published Online:27 October 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 Elsevier B.V.
First Published:First published in Science of the Total Environment 616-617: 1261-1269
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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