21 Mar 2023
 | 21 Mar 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Remote sensing reveals fire-driven facilitation of a C4 rhizomatous alien grass on a small Mediterranean volcanic island

Riccardo Guarino, Daniele Cerra, Renzo Zaia, Alessandro Chiarucci, Pietro Lo Cascio, Duccio Rocchini, Piero Zannini, and Salvatore Pasta

Abstract. Volcanic islands are special ecosystems for studying biogeographical and evolutionary processes. Occasional disturbance events, such as eruptions, tsunami or big fires, can represent major drivers of such processes leading to biotic sterilisation or major changes in island biotas. In this study, through remotely sensed data, we investigated the intensity and the extent of a large fire event that occurred on the small volcanic island of Stromboli (Aeolian archipelago, Italy) on 25–26 May 2022, to assess the short-term effect of fire damages on local plant communities. For this purpose, two different spectrally sensitive indices, i. e. the differential Normalised Burned Index (dNBR) and the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), were used. The dNBR was also used to quantify the extent of early-stage vegetation recovery, dominated by Saccharum biflorum Forssk. (Poaceae), a rhizomatous C4 perennial grass of paleotropical origin. The burned area was estimated to have an extension of around 337.83 ha, corresponding to 27.7 % of the island surface and to 49.8 % of Stromboli’s vegetated area. On the one hand, this event considerably damaged the native plant communities, hosting many species of high biogeographic interest. On the other hand, Saccharum biflorum clearly benefited from arson. In fact, it showed a very high vegetative performance after burning, being able to exert unchallenged dominance in the early stages of the post-fire succession, reaching within a few months stem density values that are only slightly lower than those of the unburned stands. Our results confirm the complex and probably synergic impact of different human disturbances (recurrent fires, introduction of invasive alien plants) on the structure and the functioning of natural ecosystems on small volcanic islands. The natural dynamics of such ecosystems is dependent on the complex relation between successional processes and the intensity and frequency of natural or anthropogenic disturbance, which can regulate mid- and long-term response of Saccharum. In fact, although the expansion of Saccharum proves to be surprisingly fast, its decline may also be relatively rapid as well, if local vegetation is no more affected by fire. After the abandonment of the agricultural practices in the highest portion of the island, the rewilding process could lead to the replacement of the large beds dominated by this invasive grass by native woody vegetation within a few decades.

Riccardo Guarino et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-19', Anonymous Referee #1, 13 Apr 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Riccardo Guarino, 19 Oct 2023
    • AC5: 'Reply on RC1', Riccardo Guarino, 20 Oct 2023
  • CC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-19', Gianluigi Ottaviani, 03 Aug 2023
    • AC3: 'Reply on CC1', Riccardo Guarino, 19 Oct 2023
    • AC6: 'Reply on CC1', Riccardo Guarino, 20 Oct 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2023-19', Anonymous Referee #2, 28 Aug 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC2', Riccardo Guarino, 19 Oct 2023
    • AC7: 'Reply on RC2', Riccardo Guarino, 20 Oct 2023
  • RC3: 'Comment on bg-2023-19', Anonymous Referee #3, 06 Sep 2023
    • AC4: 'Reply on RC3', Riccardo Guarino, 19 Oct 2023
    • AC8: 'Reply on RC3', Riccardo Guarino, 20 Oct 2023

Riccardo Guarino et al.

Riccardo Guarino et al.


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Short summary
For the first time, we documented the outstanding after-fire resilience of an invasive alien species, Saccharum biflorum, a rhizomatous C4 perennial grass introduced in the 19th century on the small volcanic island of Stromboli (Aeolian archipelago, Italy, Mediterranean Sea). Even if Saccharum biflorum prevails on native species in the early after-fire succession, it counteracts hydrogeological instability, paving the way to the recolonisation by native woody vegetation within a few decades.