Aboveground and belowground carbon dynamics in response to fire regimes in the grazed rangelands of northern Australia: initial results from field studies and modelling

Aboveground and belowground carbon dynamics in response to fire regimes in the grazed rangelands of northern Australia: initial results from field studies and modelling Journal Article

The Rangeland Journal

  • Author(s): Hunt, L. P.
  • Published: 2014
  • Volume: 36

Abstract: The world’s rangelands are often seen as offering considerable potential as a carbon (C) sink, which could contribute to the management of atmospheric C levels, but there are often few data available to assess this potential or to inform the type of management regimes that would be necessary. This paper reports on a review of the literature, a field study and modelling of C stocks under a selection of experimental fire regimes in two plant communities in Australia’s northern rangelands. The field study on an open eucalypt savanna woodland and a savanna grassland-open shrubland suggested that fire regime had no effect or an inconsistent effect on aboveground C stocks. However, modelling using the Century model for the open woodland site showed that increasing fire frequency was associated with reduced aboveground and soil C stocks. Thus, while infrequent fires allowed C stocks to increase (10-yearly fire) or remain stable (6-yearly fire) over a modelled 58-year period, a regime of more frequent fires (4- and 2-yearly fires) reduced C stocks over time. Simulation of C dynamics over 93 years of pastoral settlement suggested that total C stocks had increased by 9.5 t ha–1, largely due to an increase in C in woody vegetation following a reduction in fire frequency associated with pastoral settlement. Frequent burning, as recommended to maintain low woody density and promote pasture production for grazing, will, therefore, reduce aboveground and to a lesser extent soil C stocks where there has been a history of infrequent fire. The opportunities for pastoralists to increase C stocks will depend on the frequency of fire and vegetation type, especially its woodiness or potential woodiness. Reducing fire frequency in woody rangelands will increase C stocks but may have adverse effects on pasture and livestock production. Reducing grazing pressure or destocking might also increase C stocks but may be relevant only when a property is overstocked or where relatively unproductive land could be taken out of livestock production. Any C gains from altering fire and grazing management are likely to be modest.

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Suggested Citation
Hunt, L. P., 2014, Aboveground and belowground carbon dynamics in response to fire regimes in the grazed rangelands of northern Australia: initial results from field studies and modelling, Volume:36, Journal Article, viewed 15 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=2679.

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