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A pantropical analysis of fire impacts and post-fire recovery on tropical plant diversity and species composition
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  • Dharma Sapkota,
  • David Edwards,
  • Mike Massam,
  • Karl Evans
Dharma Sapkota
The University of Sheffield

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David Edwards
The University of Sheffield
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Mike Massam
The University of Sheffield
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Karl Evans
Sheffield University
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Fire is increasingly driving loss and degradation of tropical habitats, but factors influencing biodiversity responses to fire are inadequately understood. We conduct a pan-tropical analysis of systematically collated data – 5257 observations of 1705 plant species (trees and shrubs, forbs, graminoids and climbers) in burnt and unburnt plots from 28 studies. We use model averaging of mixed effect models assessing how plant species richness and turnover (comparing burnt and unburnt communities) vary with time since fire, fire type, protected area status and biome type. More long-term studies are needed, but our analyses highlight three key findings. First, prescribed and non-prescribed burns have contrasting impacts on plant communities, the direction of which depends on focal life form and biome. Forb richness, for example, increases following non-prescribed (but not prescribed) burns in savannahs and flooded grasslands, but in moist broadleaved forest forb richness increases strongly following prescribed (but not non-prescribed) burns. Second, protected areas mitigate fire impacts on plant communities. Species richness of trees/shrubs increased (by ~50%) following fires in non-protected sites but tended to remain similar in protected sites. Similarly, ten years after a fire event graminoid community composition had recovered fully to resemble non-burnt communities in protected areas, but remained highly divergent in unprotected sites. Finally, this persistence in divergence of community composition following fire events occurs across a number of life forms. Composition of tree/shrub communities remained divergent from unburnt communities ten years after a fire, and composition of forb communities only returned to those of unburnt sites after ten years. Fire intervals are already less than ten years in some tropical locations, and future climate and land use change are predicted to further shorten these intervals. Plant communities across much of the tropics are thus likely to change substantially in response increased exposure to fire.
21 Jul 2023Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
21 Jul 2023Assigned to Editor
21 Jul 2023Submission Checks Completed
24 Jul 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned