Rachael Nolan

Plant ecophysiology, fire ecology, carbon accounting

Several weeks following a prescribed burn in the Sydney Basin


I study how ecosystems respond to disturbance, and what this means for ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, habitat values and water resources. My research is also developing better tools for predicting bushfires and planning prescribed burns.

Predicting post-fire tree mortality

Resprouting eucalypt and callitris forest, two years post-fire, Pilliga National Park, NSW.

Quantifying rates of tree death following fire is important for understanding fire effects on ecosystem services, including habitat values and carbon sequestration. We’re quantifying rates of tree mortality in resprouting eucalypts.

Predicting wildfires: fuel dryness and fuel loads

Fuel loads in the Blue Mountains, a fire-prone area in the Sydney Basin, prior to a fuel reduction burn.

Forests burn when it’s dry, and when there’s enough fuel to carry fire. We’re developing models to quantify fuel dryness and fuel loads, so we can better predict when and where large wildfires will occur.

Using forests to offset carbon emissions

Regenerating eucalypt forests, one year on from the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

We’re increasingly using forest protection measures and reforestation to offset carbon emissions. Our research shows the importance of accounting for disturbances, such as drought or fire, in carbon accounting.

Plant strategies in semi-arid ecosystems

Flux tower site in Central Australia, monitoring carbon and water fluxes from a Mulga woodland.

Australia’s arid and semi-arid ecosystems cover ~70% of the continent, and play an important role in the global land carbon sink. We’ve investigated the remarkable diversity of plant strategies for coping in this low rainfall environment.

Post-fire water supply from forested catchments

Inside a water catchment following the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

Many cities and towns around the world rely on water from forested water catchments. But what happens when they burn? My PhD research found changes in the rates of forest water use (evapotranspiration) following wildfire depends on fire severity and forest type.