CIE Spotlight: Lizard responses to forest fire and timber harvesting: Complementary insights from species and community approaches

Tim J.

Tim J.

Authors: Hu, Yang; Kelly, Luke T.; Gillespie, Graeme R.; Jessop, Tim S.

Source: FOREST ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT, 379 206-215, NOV 1 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Understanding the relationship between community composition and ecosystem function is essential for managing forests with complex disturbance regimes. Studies of animal responses to fire and timber harvesting in forest ecosystems typically focus on a single level of community diversity. Measures of species abundance and diversity at the community level, along with measures of functional diversity that incorporate information on species traits, provide opportunities for complementary insights into biodiversity responses to disturbances.

We quantified community and functional responses of a temperate forest lizard community to fire and rotational logging using metrics including species-specific abundance, community abundance, species richness and evenness, as well as trait-based measures of functional diversity. We used non-linear regression models to examine the relationships between reptile data and time since fire and timber harvesting, using sites arrayed along a 30-years post-disturbance chronosequence.

We modelled responses separately in two major vegetation types: coastal Banksia woodland and lowland eucalypt forests. Species and community measures offered different insights into the role of fire and logging. Species responses to disturbance differed between disturbance type and vegetation type.

Four species exhibited significant population responses to either fire or timber harvesting, while the rest were unaffected by either disturbance. At the community level, species richness and community abundance increased significantly with time since fire in woodland vegetation. In forest vegetation, community abundance decreased with time since fire. Surprisingly, community evenness and functional diversity did not show marked responses to fire or timber harvesting. This is likely a result of trait homogeneity and the asynchrony in species responses to disturbance.

We advocate using multiple measures of community composition – incorporating species-specific information, community metrics and functional traits – to ensure a more holistic understanding of disturbance ecology in forest landscapes.