Changes to the frequency of fire due to management decisions and climate change have the potential to affect the flammability of vegetation, with long-term effects on the vegetation structure and composition. Frequent fire in some vegetation types can lead to transformational change beyond which the vegetation type is radically altered. Such feedbacks limit our ability to project fuel loads under future climatic conditions or to consider the ecological tradeoffs associated with management burns. We present a “pathway modelling” approach to consider multiple transitional pathways that may occur under different fire frequencies. The model combines spatial layers representing current and future fire danger, biomass, flammability, and sensitivity to fire to assess potential future fire activity. The layers are derived from a dynamically downscaled regional climate model, attributes from a regional vegetation map, and information about fuel characteristics. Fire frequency is demonstrated to be an important factor influencing flammability and availability to burn and therefore an important determinant of future fire activity. Regional shifts in vegetation type occur in response to frequent fire, as the rate of change differs across vegetation type. Fire-sensitive vegetation types move towards drier, more fire-adapted vegetation quickly, as they may be irreversibly impacted by even a single fire, and require very long recovery times. Understanding the interaction between climate change and fire is important to identify appropriate management regimes to sustain fire-sensitive communities and maintain the distribution of broad vegetation types across the landscape.
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