CIE Spotlight: Conserving long unburnt vegetation is important for bird species, guilds and diversity

Tim D.
Tim D.

Authors: Davis, Robert A.; Doherty, Tim S.; van Etten, Eddie J. B.; Radford, James Q.; Holmes, Floyd; Knuckey, Chris; Davis, Belinda J.

Source: BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION, 25 (13):2709-2722, DEC 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Landscape-level wildfires have a major role in structuring faunal assemblages, particularly in fire-prone landscapes. These effects are mediated by changes to vegetation structure and composition that directly influence the availability of shelter, feeding and breeding resources.

We investigated the response of a semi-arid shrubland bird community in Western Australia to the prevailing fire regime by examining the abundance, diversity and guild structure in relation to time since fire. We also examined vegetation structural attributes in relation to time since fire.

We surveyed 32 sites ranging in age from 12 to 84 years since last fire. A total of 845 birds from 40 species were recorded. Vegetation structure varied with fire history with old and very old sites characterised by less bare ground, more leaf litter cover and greater canopy cover.

Bird community composition varied with time since fire, driven by increased bird species richness and abundance of insectivores, granivores/frugivores, golden whistlers, grey shrike-thrush and red-capped robins with time since fire.

Frequent, intense landscape-scale fires transform the landscape into homogeneous young shrublands, which may render vegetation unsuitable for several species and guilds.