Research student profile: Felipe Aires

Project Title

Fire ecology of woody weeds in Australian forests and woodlands

Project overview

Fire is a common feature in most ecosystems in Australia. The native flora is well adapted to occasional fire and recovers over time in a variety of ways. Invasive species or ‘weeds’ are also a common feature in most Australian ecosystems, particularly in forests and woodlands close to urban settlements. Invasive species have the potential to recover or recolonise more rapidly than native species and may increase the susceptibility of vegetation to fire. Invasive species such as annual grasses provide the fine fuel necessary for initiation and propagation of fire. ‘Woody weeds’ provide the elevated biomass to sustain fire and move it towards the forest canopy. When both of these elements are considered, there is the likelihood of an increase in both fire frequency and intensity in weed-infested areas of forest and woodland.
Fire both influences and is influenced by plant community composition and structure, resulting in a complex relationship between fire and exotic plant invasion. Because of the potential to elucidate principles of population and community ecology underlying invasion, as well as to improve management of invasive species and conserve ecosystems threatened by invasion, understanding the relationships among fire, plant invasion and plant community structure is currently of great interest to scientists and managers
Differences in growth rate, architecture and ecophysiological characteristics among alien and native vegetation can alter fire regimes and produce significant changes in the balance of carbon, nutrient levels and the water cycle. Indeed, several studies have reported changes in the biogeochemical cycles at a range of scales due to the presence of alien plants (D`Antonio & Vitousek 1992). Therefore, this project aims to investigate the interaction of fire and invasive plant species in forests of eastern Australia by comparing biotic and abiotic features of pristine (non-invaded) and invaded forests in burnt and unburnt condition to provide a range of disturbance regimes.

This will give us a greater understanding of how invasion affects different ecological mechanisms and provide important directions to manage weed species in fire-prone areas.
This research will involve extensive field work combining different approaches to help our understanding of weed species and fire regime.
This knowledge is fundamental for management of forests in eastern Australia and to better understand the complexity of interactions, including the role of fire, in ecosystems

Background

I am from the city of Brasilia in Brazil. There is obtained a Bachelor and Teaching degree in biological sciences from the Universidade de Brasilia. I then went on to complete a Master in Ecology at the same University before joining Sydney for my PhD.

I have been awarded the University of Sydney World Scholar, matching Faculty funds and CRC top-up scholarship to support my research.

Publications

  • Book Chapter:
    Miranda, H.S.; Sato, M. N.; Neto, N. W.; Aires, F. S. Fires in the cerrado, the Brazilian Savanna in Cochrane, M. A. Tropical Fire Ecology – Climate Change, Land Use, and Ecosystem Dynamics. pp. 427-444

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