er 5— M
Chapter 5: Melaleuca communities
This fire vegetation group includes all communities dominated by melaleuca. In
the Cape York Peninsula bioregion most of these communities are periodically
inundated. Drier sites have a grassy understory with occasional sparse shrubs
such as xanthorrhoea and grevillea. Wetter sites support sedges, ferns, palms
and pandanus in the understory. They are found across the bioregion.
There are four broad sub-groupings of melaleuca communities on Cape York
Peninsula with different fire requirements:
1. Melaleuca woodlands (woodlands)
Woodlands can be dominated by one or a mix of melaleuca species with other
canopy species also present. The understoreys may be dominated by grasses,
shrubs, sedges, ferns or a mixture of plants. The ground-layer is often sparse.
Woodlands can be found in wetter areas such as drainage depressions, marine
plains and swamps. These can remain boggy for weeks or months. Low hills and
rises dry more quickly but accumulate fuel very slowly.
2. Melaleuca heath (heath)
Heaths have a low, dense structure dominated by a mix of species including:
York paperbark Melaleuca arcana and sometimes co-dominant broad-leaved
paperbark Melaleuca viridiflora. There is usually no understorey or very sparse
grasses. These heaths are found adjacent to wet areas such as on marine
plains, stream edges or fringing fresh water lakes. They also occur on knolls
and hills. Like other heaths, when melaleuca heath burns it often scorches
completely with plants reshooting from the base.
3. Melaleuca gallery forest and lagoon margins (gallery forests)
Gallery forests are tall to very tall (up to 50m) and are located on the margins of
swamps and lagoons on deep peat soils, on the levee banks of major streams
or as part of a complex of flood channels and levee banks. Gallery forests are
fire-sensitive. They sometimes have rainforest species present.
4. Melaleuca swamps (swamps)
Swamps are low areas where water usually remains near or above the surface of
the peat or gley soils. They are often dominated by swamp paperbark Melaleuca
quinquenervia or weeping paperbark Melaleuca leucadendra. Other species
may also dominate in some areas. Swamps may have shrubs or rainforest
pockets present and sedges dominate the ground layer. Swamps can cover vast
areas, in some cases up to a few hundred hectares.
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Fire management issues
The main issue for the drier woodlands and heaths is maintaining a Landscape
Mosaic through broad-scale fire management (this limits the impacts of late
season wildfires). In addition, heaths prefer a longer fire interval which is
difficult to maintain if the surrounding landscape is not proactively burnt to limit
extensive and regular late-season fire.
Maintaining a Landscape Mosaic within fire-adapted vegetation adjacent to
gallery forests and swamps will assist in mitigating impacts of fire. Avoid peat
fires by burning when standing water is present or the peat is water logged.
1. Maintain healthy melaleuca communities.
2. Avoid peat fires.
3. Limit fire encroachment into non-target communities.
1 for complete list.
Land), 180 812 ha; Crosbie Creek Station, 42 859 ha; Cape Melville National Park,
39 843 ha; Mungkan Kandju National Park, 28 081 ha; Jack River National Park,
26 989 ha; Strathmay Station, 24 647 ha; KULLA (McIlwraith Range) National Park (Cape
York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), 20 579 ha; Lama Lama National Park (Cape York Peninsula
Aboriginal Land), 11 283 ha; Mary Valley Station, 11 039 ha; Olive River Reserve, 8018 ha;
Alwal National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), 7474 ha; Battle Camp Station,
3767 ha; Jardine River National Park, 3572 ha; Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park
(Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), 3119 ha; Mount Jack Station Acquisition, 2420 ha;
Heathlands Resources Reserve, 2254 ha; Orchid Creek (Under Negotiation With Aboriginal
Land And NP), 2077 ha; Errk Oykangand National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal
Land), 830 ha; Annan River (Yuku Baja-Muliku) National Park, 204 ha.
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Issue 1: Maintain healthy melaleuca communities
• Healthy melaleuca woodlands have grasses, sedges, or shrubs (or any mix
of these) in the understorey. A few canopy trees of varying size should be
present—enough to eventually replace the canopy.
• Grasses are upright and vigorous, with well-formed bases. Perennial grasses
are more common than annuals.
• Some melaleuca woodlands on low rises and hill slopes have a naturally-
dense shrub layer. These can include species such as grevillea and
• There is a variation in age-class of heath stands across the landscape.
• Plants such as the cluster fig Ficus racemosa var. racemosa, Leichhardt tree
strychnine bush Strychnos lucida or wattles are present in the canopy or
• There is an absence of blackened trunks.
• Sedges are upright and vigorous. Ferns are vigorous without a significant
build-up of dead material.
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Gallery forests do not require fire. Maintaining a landscape mosaic in surrounding fire-
Daryn Storch, QPWS, Lakefield National Park (2011).
Grasses in melaleuca
woodlands should be
upright and vigorous with
Mark Newton, DSITIA, Main
Edward River Road (2008).
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The canopy is quite sparse in scrub teatree Melaleuca citrolens woodlands.
• Grasses or sedges collapsing or appearing matted with a build-up of dead
• Xanthorrhoea spp. (where present) have brown skirts.
• Shrubs (where present) are starting to decline, the crowns or branches are
dying and/or lower leaves are browning.
• Continuous fuel exists above the water level.
• Sedges are collapsing or appear matted. They have a build-up of dead
material. This can form above the water level.
• Ferns are accumulating dead fronds.
• Pandanus (where present) have a build-up of dead fronds.
• Plants are beginning to lose their lower level leaves or some crowns are
• Plants have some dead or dying branches.
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1/05/13 4:05 PM
Melaleuca woodland on rises.
Mark Newton, DSITIA, Upper Archer/Wenlock River (2003).
Collapsing, matted sedges.
Kerensa McCallie, QPWS, Conway National Park (2011).
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• A key strategy to manage the vast expanse of inaccessible melaleuca
communities in Cape York Peninsula is broad-scale management through
aerial ignition. Ideally this would include at least three different ignition
periods on each property, each year. However, the ability to achieve this will
depend on resourcing. Aim to achieve as many ignition periods as feasible.
• Melaleuca communities with a peat layer are vulnerable to peat fires in
the drier months. These areas should always be burnt with standing water
present or when the peat layer is water logged (refer to Issue 2, for guidelines
to avoid peat fire).
• Melaleuca woodlands are quite resilient and do not change quickly. In
addition, fires can be frequent and long-unburnt areas rare. In some wetter
areas casuarinas and acacias may become frequent.
• The number of melaleuca species and of communities containing melaleuca
on Cape York Peninsula is greater than anywhere else in Australia (Stanton
1976) and their fire management requirements are variable.
• Be aware that the
and is often described as a ‘ladder fuel’ as it causes fire to rapidly ascend
from the base to the top of the tree. Be aware of wind conditions and ember
• Be aware that very tall (up to 50 m) gallery forests along levee banks of major
streams occur (e.g. within Lakefield national Park), but are not described
in the Regional Ecosystems database (Queensland Herbarium 2011a). Tall
> 30 m), melaleuca woodlands on the margins of swamps and lagoons on
(Queensland Herbarium 2011a).
• Rubber vine occurs in gallery forest and can be managed with fire. Fire
should only be applied after at least 30 mm of rain when the melaleuca bark
is wet (refer to Chapter 10 [Issue 4], regarding fire management guidelines).
• Grasses are generally considered ready to burn when they reach 50–60 per
cent cured. The North Australian Grassland Fuel Guide (Johnson 2001) may
assist in determining when grasses are ready to burn. However, caution
should be used and local knowledge sought as some grass species which
still appear too green to burn, will burn severely (and vice versa).
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The fire tolerance of ant plants Myrmecodia beccarii is unknown. Where this species is
Paul Forster, Queensland Herbarium (2000).
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What is the priority for this issue?
Planned burns to
Every proposed burn area contains natural variations in topography,
understorey or vegetation type. It is recommended that you select at least three
locations that will be good indicators for the whole burn area. At these locations
walk around and if visibility is good look about and average the results.
Estimations can be improved by returning to the same locations before and
after fire, and by using counts where relevant.
Select at least two of the following as most appropriate for the site:
30–60 % of
Using fire scar remote sensing data,
an annual basis.
20–30 % or 60–80 %.
> 50 % of
Select one or more sites or walk one
or more transects (taking into account
the variability of landform and likely
fire severity) and estimate number of
Pandanus skirts remaining after fire.
> 50 % retained.
25–50 % retained.
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result in a
Ongoing visual assessment during and
post burn to determine if the fire has
carried into peat layer and developed
into a peat fire.
Achieved: Fire did not
carry into peat layer
and develop into a
carried into peat layer
and developed into a
scorch of the
after): visual estimation of percentage
of margins scorched – from one or
more vantage points, or from the air.
after): walk the margin of the pocket or
representative sections (e.g. a 100m
long section of the margin in three
locations) and estimate the percentage
of margin scorched.
of the margin.
> 10 %
the Park in
any one year.
estimate burnt and unburnt country on
an annual basis.
10 % or 20–30 %.
> 30 %.
burn objectives found in the monitoring section of the QPWS Fire Management
System, or consider formulating your own.
Monitoring the issue over time
Many issues are not resolved with a single planned burn and it is important
to keep observing the land. To support this, it is recommended that
observation points be established. Observation points are usually supported
by photographs and by recording observations. Instructions for establishing
observation points can be obtained from the monitoring section of the QPWS
Fire Management System.
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Woodland of Melaleuca saligna on floodplains. The naturally-sparse ground layer of this
Mark Newton, DSITIA, 12 Mile Yards (2004).
Low-severity fire in melaleuca woodland.
Mark Newton, DSITIA, Stewart River Crossing (2008).
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