Historical land-use influences the long-term stream turbidity response to a wildfire

Evan T. Harrison, Fiona Dyer, Daniel W. Wright, Chris Levings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Wildfires commonly result in an increase in stream turbidity. However, the influence of pre-fire land-use practices on post-fire stream turbidity is not well understood. The Lower Cotter Catchment (LCC) in south-eastern Australia is part of the main water supply catchment for Canberra with land in the catchment historically managed for a mix of conservation (native eucalypt forest) and pine (Pinus radiata) plantation. In January 2003, wildfires burned almost all of the native and pine forests in the LCC. A study was established in 2005 to determine stream post-fire turbidity recovery within the native and pine forest areas of the catchment. Turbidity data loggers were deployed in two creeks within burned native forest and burned pine forest areas to determine turbidity response to fire in these areas. As a part of the study, we also determined changes in bare soil in the native and pine forest areas since the fire. The results suggest that the time, it takes turbidity levels to decrease following wildfire, is dependent upon the preceding land-use. In the LCC, turbidity levels decreased more rapidly in areas previously with native vegetation compared to areas which were previously used for pine forestry. This is likely because of a higher percentage of bare soil areas for a longer period of time in the ex-pine forest estate and instream stores of fine sediment from catchment erosion during post-fire storm events. The results of our study show that the previous land-use may exert considerable control over on-going turbidity levels following a wildfire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-400
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


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