Visions – Fire and wildlife

Visions – Fire and wildlife

Bushfire has always been an integral part of the Australian landscape, with many plant and animal species relying on fire for survival. A planned burn near Lorne in Victoria, provided a unique opportunity to study the relationship between bushfire, landscape, plants and animals, both before and after fire activity. The results will help inform habitat and landscape management as well as future planned burn programs. We’re testing two major hypothesis, I guess, as scientists. The first one is that highly variable landscapes provide places for a wide range of plants and animals to live. And so the theory is if you have a mix of differnt forest types in the landscape they support a wide range of organisms. The second part of the story is fire and it’s about using fire to make those landscapes even more variable. So the landscape is made up of different vegetation types at different times since the last fire. All supporting different sorts of organisms. Within that we’re actually studying experimental fires so the land managers, Department of Environment and Primary Industries and Parks Victoria, are using fire to reduce the risk to life and property but at the same time to manipulate these mosaics and they’ve asked us to find out what sort of pattern they should have to maximise fire diversity to support most organisms. So for animals, and to a lesser extent plants, they need to move around the landscape. By moving around the landscape these animals interact with other organisms and they pass on their genetic material at times and we’re interested in genetic diversity because it’s what evolution is all about. We have fitted radio tracking collars with GPS capacity to eleven Swamp Wallabies before the fires and we watched how they moved around the landscape and interacted. And then we had the capacity to study their movement patterns during the fire and see what they did and as we’d predicted these animals moved into unburnt areas, into the wetter gullies, and then when the fire had stopped we then studied what they did next and it seemed that they moved back out into the areas that they were familiar with before. We had complete survival of all the animals during the fire and we’ve been able to study and understand how they use that habitat during the planned burn. The aim of my project is to look at how fire influences ground dwelling mammals in the Otways landscape. So we’re using a range of different methods to detect species, we’re using live trapping, so actually going out and catching small animals. So we use that for things like Bush Rats, really common little marsupials and we’re also using modern technology like camera trapping. With the Bush Rats we’ve done some work looking at how they use unburnt patches within a fire area and we’ve found that the unburnt gullies are quite important for post fire survival. We’re finding that species richness which is number of species that are in a certain area is not strongly influenced by time since fire or landscape patterns so when I’m talking about landscape patterns I’m talking about the number of different fires in an area. One of the most important things for maintaining a diversity of mammals is the diversity of habitat structure. If there’s a diversity of habitat structure across a landscape then this is really important for ground dwelling mammals especially. The challenge is trying to understand how we can best manage fire to increase the diversity of habitat structure that occurs across a landscape.

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One thought on “Visions – Fire and wildlife

  1. As we move through summer have you been wondering about the relationship that exists between bushfire and Australian wildlife?

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