Fire Mosaics and Reptile Conservation in a Fire-Prone Region Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Fire influences the distribution of fauna in terrestrial biomes throughout the world. Use of fire to achieve a mosaic of vegetation in different stages of succession after burning (i.e., patch-mosaic burning) is a dominant conservation practice in many regions. Despite this, knowledge of how the spatial attributes of vegetation mosaics created by fire affect fauna is extremely scarce, and it is unclear what kind of mosaic land managers should aim to achieve. We selected 28 landscapes (each 12.6 km(2) ) that varied in the spatial extent and diversity of vegetation succession after fire in a 104,000 km(2) area in the semiarid region of southeastern Australia. We surveyed for reptiles at 280 sites nested within the 28 landscapes. The landscape-level occurrence of 9 of the 22 species modeled was associated with the spatial extent of vegetation age classes created by fire. Biogeographic context and the extent of a vegetation type influenced 7 and 4 species, respectively. No species were associated with the diversity of vegetation ages within a landscape. Negative relations between reptile occurrence and both extent of recently burned vegetation (≤10 years postfire, n = 6) and long unburned vegetation (>35 years postfire, n = 4) suggested that a coarse-grained mosaic of areas (e.g. >1000 ha) of midsuccessional vegetation (11-35 years postfire) may support the fire-sensitive reptile species we modeled. This age class coincides with a peak in spinifex cover, a keystone structure for reptiles in semiarid and arid Australia. Maintaining over the long term a coarse-grained mosaic of large areas of midsuccessional vegetation in mallee ecosystems will need to be balanced against the short-term negative effects of large fires on many reptile species and a documented preference by species from other taxonomic groups, particularly birds, for older vegetation.

publication date

  • April 2013