CIE Spotlight: Effects of the fire regime on mammal occurrence after wildfire: Site effects vs landscape context in fire-prone forests

Evelyn C., Michelle B., Greg H., Euan. R. and Andrew B.
Evelyn C., Michelle B., Greg H., Euan. R. and Andrew B.

Title: Effects of the fire regime on mammal occurrence after wildfire: Site effects vs landscape context in fire-prone forests

Authors: Evelyn K. Chia, Michelle Bassett, Steve W.J. Leonard, Greg J. Holland, Euan G. Ritchie, Michael F. Clarke, Andrew F. Bennett

Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 363, 130–139, 1 March 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Wildfires have major impacts on ecosystems globally. Fire regimes (including fire frequency, intensity, season and type of fire) influence the status of species by altering habitat suitability at the site scale, and by creating heterogeneity at the landscape scale. The relative effects of site and landscape-scale fire attributes on animal species are rarely examined together.

Such knowledge is important, given that fire regimes are sensitive to changing land management practices; and that fires are predicted to become larger and more frequent in some regions as a result of climate change.

Here, we tested the relative influence of elements of the fire regime (fire severity, fire history) at the site-scale, and the landscape context (extent of surrounding unburnt forest, fire heterogeneity) on the occurrence of native terrestrial mammals after severe wildfire in south-eastern Australia.

We conducted surveys by using automatically triggered, infrared cameras at 80 sites in fire-prone eucalypt forests, 2–3 years post-wildfire. Thirteen native mammal species were recorded, eight of which were detected with sufficient frequency for analysis. Most species were widespread (35–90% of sites) and recorded in all fire severity classes. Fire effects at the site-level were more influential than landscape context effects arising from heterogeneity in the fire regime (e.g. extent of surrounding unburnt forest). Fire severity was the most influential of the fire-regime elements investigated, but it affected different species in different ways.

This study highlights three main points relevant to conservation of terrestrial mammals after wildfire. First, spatial variation in fire severity associated with wildfire (ranging from unburned to severely burned stands) is an important contributor to the post-fire status of species. Second, post-fire environmental conditions are significant: here, rapid regeneration of vegetation following drought-breaking rains greatly influenced the suitability of post-fire habitats. Third, it is valuable to consider the effects of the fire regime at multiple scales, including both the site (forest stand) and its landscape context.

Insights from short-term surveys, such as this, will be enhanced by complementary longitudinal studies, especially where they encompass environmental variation through the post-fire succession.