Response of a shrubland mammal and reptile community to a history of landscape-scale wildfire
School of Science / Centre for Ecosystem Management
Fire plays a strong role in structuring fauna communities and the habitat available to them in fire-prone regions. Human-mediated increases in fire frequency and intensity threaten many animal species and understanding how these species respond to fire history and its associated effect on vegetation is essential to effective biodiversity management. We used a shrubland mammal and reptile community in semiarid south-western AUS as a model to investigate interactions between fire history, habitat structure and fauna habitat use. Of the 15 species analysed, five were most abundant in recently burnt habitat (8-13 years since last fire), four were most abundant in long unburnt areas (25-50 years) and six showed no response to fire history. Fauna responses to fire history were divergent both within and across taxonomic groups. Fire management that homogenises large areas of habitat through either fire exclusion or frequent burning may threaten species due to these diverse requirements, so careful management of fire may be needed to maximise habitat suitability across the landscape. When establishing fire management plans, we recommend that land managers exercise caution in adopting species-specific information from different locations and broad vegetation types. Information on animal responses to fire is best gained through experimental and adaptive management approaches at the local level.