Measuring flammability of crops, pastures, fruit trees, and weeds: A novel tool to fight wildfires in agricultural landscapes

Pagadala, T
Alam, Md Azharul
Maxwell, Thomas
Curran, Timothy
Journal Article
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::310806 Plant physiology , ANZSRC::410205 Fire ecology , ANZSRC::300406 Crop and pasture improvement (incl. selection and breeding) , ANZSRC::300299 Agriculture, land and farm management not elsewhere classified
Fires on agricultural land account for 8–11 % of the total number of fires that occur globally. These fires burn through various crops, pastures, and native vegetation on farms, causing economic and environmental losses. Fire management on farms will be aided by understanding the flammability of plant species as this would allow the design of low-flammability agricultural landscapes, but flammability data on large numbers of agricultural species are lacking. Many crop and vegetable species are assumed to be low in flammability, but this has rarely been tested. Therefore, we examined the shoot and whole-plant flammability of 47 plant taxa commonly grown on farms in Canterbury, New Zealand, which included many globally common temperate agricultural crops. We demonstrated that most of the agricultural species were low to very low in flammability, with many of them (24 taxa; 51 %) not igniting in the experimental burning. Among different crop types, fruit crops and cereals had significantly higher flammability, while taxa categorized as vegetable crops, grazing herbs, pasture grasses, pasture legumes, and weeds were lower in flammability. We further showed that taxa with lower moisture content, higher retention of dead material and faster moisture loss rates were higher in flammability. The strong variation of flammability between the studied taxa suggests that the selection of suitable low flammability species and strategic redesign of agricultural landscapes with fire-retardant planting can be a useful tool to reduce fire hazards and impacts of wildfires in agricultural landscapes.
© 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
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