CIE Spotlight: Ecosystem Responses to Fire: Identifying Cross-taxa Contrasts and Complementarities to Inform Management Strategies

ecosystem-responses-to-fireAuthors: Tim S. Doherty, Eddie J. B. van Etten, Robert A. Davis, Chris Knuckey, James Q. Radford, Sarah A. Dalgleish

Source: Ecosystems (available online 28 November 2016)

Brief summary of the paper: Changes in fire frequency, extent, and intensity mean that understanding the effects of fire on plants and animals is a primary concern for ecologists and land managers. Given the potentially conflicting fire responses of species both within and across taxonomic groups, prescribing fire regimes based on the response of one or only a few species may have negative consequences for other species.

Here, we integrate data collected from a series of independent but complementary studies spanning a 75 + year chronosequence in a semi-arid shrubland ecosystem in south-western Australia to consider how fire management can best promote biodiversity both within and across taxonomic groups (plants, birds, small mammals, and reptiles).

Younger fire ages (6–14 years) contained sparse shrubs, large areas of bare ground, and lacked a distinct litter layer and canopy. The oldest vegetation (60–85 years) had a distinct canopy, a well-developed litter layer and cryptogamic crust, higher variability in patch width, and more woody debris.

Plant species richness and diversity decreased with time since fire, whereas bird species richness and diversity increased with time since fire, and mammal and reptile species richness and diversity showed no trend. The composition of all four taxonomic groups varied according to time since fire and the presence of 11 species was confined above or below certain fire-age thresholds.

Our results support the need to maintain a mix of both younger and older fire ages across the landscape to maximise species diversity, and highlight the particular importance of older fire ages for many species.

Future fire management for biodiversity conservation will benefit from identifying and reconciling cross-taxa contrasts and complementarities.