A quantitative assessment of shoot flammability for 60 tree and shrub species supports rankings based on expert opinion.
Fire is an important ecological disturbance in vegetated ecosystems across the globe, and also has considerable impacts on human infrastructure. Vegetation flammability is a key bottom-up control on fire regimes and on the nature of individual fires. Although New Zealand (NZ) historically had low fire frequencies, anthropogenic fires have considerably impacted indigenous vegetation as humans used fire extensively to clear forests. Few studies of vegetation flammability have been undertaken in NZ and only one has compared the flammability of indigenous plants; this was a qualitative assessment derived from expert opinion. We addressed this knowledge gap by measuring the flammability of terminal shoots from a range of trees and shrubs found in NZ. We quantified shoot flammability of 60 indigenous and exotic species, and compared our experimentally derived ranking with expert opinion. The most flammable species was the invasive exotic shrub Gorse (Ulex europaeus), followed by Manna Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis), Kūmarahou (Pomaderris kumeraho), Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) and Silver Beech (Lophozonia menziesii). Our experimentally derived ranking was strongly correlated with expert opinion, lending support to both methods. Our results are useful to ecologists seeking to understand how fires have and will influence NZ's ecosystems, and for fire managers identifying high-risk landscapes, and low flammability species for 'green firebreaks'.