La Trobe
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The role of decomposer communities in managing surface fuels: A neglected ecosystem service

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Surface fuel loads are a key driver of forest fires and the target of hazard reduction burns to reduce fire risk. However, the role of biota in decomposition, or feedbacks between fire and decomposer communities are rarely considered. We review the evidence that decomposer organisms play an important role in surface fuel regulation and how this role is affected by fire. First, we outline the contribution of decomposer organisms to the breakdown of surface fuels. Next, we consider the three distinct phases through which fire regulates decomposer communities and how this may affect decomposition and future fire regimes. Finally, we consider interactions between global change and decomposer-fire feedbacks and the implications for fire management. Evidence indicates that decomposer organisms are important in regulating surface fuels and we propose that the biological basis and dynamic nature of fuel load control require greater attention. This includes better understanding of functional redundancy among decomposer organisms, the impacts of global change on the biota that drive decomposition and the factors that limit decomposer persistence and recolonisation following fires. By filling these knowledge gaps, we will be better armed to conserve and manage these functionally critical taxa in fire-prone ecosystems in a changing world.


This research was supported through an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to HG (FT130100821) and funding to HG, NM and AF from the La Trobe University Research Focus Area of Securing Food, Water and the Environment. Neither funder played a role in the research direction after granting the funding.


Publication Date



International Journal of Wildland Fire






19p. (p. 350-368)





Rights Statement

© 2022 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing on behalf of IAWF. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.