Fire severity and fire-induced landscape heterogeneity affect arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests

Authors: Evelyn K Chia, Michelle Bassett, Dale G Nimmo, Steve W J Leonard, Euan G Ritchie, Michael F Clarke and Andrew F Bennett

Published in: Ecoshere, volume 6, issue 10 (October 2015)

EucFires

We examined the role of topography, fire history and fire sensitivity on the occurrence of arboreal mammals 2 to 3 years after wildfire in temperate Eucalypt forests. Image credit: Elizabeth Donoghue via Flickr.

Abstract

In fire-prone regions, wildfire influences spatial and temporal patterns of landscape heterogeneity. The likely impacts of climate change on the frequency and intensity of wildfire highlights the importance of understanding how fire-induced heterogeneity may affect different components of the biota.

Here, we examine the influence of wildfire, as an agent of landscape heterogeneity, on the distribution of arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests in south-eastern Australia.

First, we used a stratified design to examine the role of topography, and the relative influence of fire severity and fire history, on the occurrence of arboreal mammals 2–3 years after wildfire. Second, we investigated the influence of landscape context on the occurrence of arboreal mammals at severely burnt sites. Forested gullies supported a higher abundance of arboreal mammals than slopes.

Fire severity was the strongest influence, with abundance lower at severely burnt than unburnt sites. The occurrence of mammals at severely burned sites was influenced by landscape context: abundance increased with increasing amount of unburnt and understorey-only burnt forest within a one kilometre radius.

These results support the hypothesis that unburnt forest and moist gullies can serve as refuges for fauna in the post-fire environment and assist recolonization of severely burned forest. They highlight the importance of spatial heterogeneity created by wildfire and the need to incorporate spatial aspects of fire regimes (e.g. creation and protection of refuges) for fire management in fire-prone landscapes.

Chia EK, Bassett M, Nimmo DG, Leonard SWJ, Ritchie EG, Clarke MF, Bennett AF (2015) Fire severity and fire-induced landscape heterogeneity affect arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests, Ecosphere, 6:10 PDF DOI