A game of cat-and-mouse: Microhabitat influences rodent foraging in recently burnt but not long unburnt shrublands
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences
We investigated the influence of vegetation structure and fire history on the foraging behavior of small rodents (Notomys mitchellii, Pseudomys hermannsburgensis, and Mus musculus) by conducting giving-up density (GUD) experiments in recently burnt (9–13 years since last fire) and long unburnt shrublands (> 40 years), and open and sheltered microhabitats, in a semiarid region of Western Australia. We predicted that rodents would spend less time foraging in recently burnt shrublands and open microhabitat and that the influence of microhabitat would be weaker in long unburnt compared to more recently burnt vegetation. Our findings show that fire history and microhabitat structure influence the foraging behavior of the study species and that the influence of microhabitat varies between fire histories. GUDs were higher in long unburnt vegetation and in open microhabitats. There was a microhabitat effect in recently burnt vegetation, but not in long unburnt. Rodents foraged more in sheltered microhabitats probably because predator encounters are less likely to occur there and it provides them with greater refuge from predation. The presence of a microhabitat effect in recently burnt, but not long unburnt vegetation suggests that understory vegetation density is more important in mediating predation risk than canopy density. Future studies of small mammal responses to land management actions should include behavioral, as well as population-level responses to differing fire regimes.