Fire management to combat disease: turning interactions between threats into conservation management Academic Article uri icon


  • As the number and intensity of threats to biodiversity increase, there is a critical need to investigate interactions between threats and manage populations accordingly. We ask whether it is possible to reduce the effects of one threat by mitigating another. We used long-term data for the long-lived resprouter, Xanthorrhoea resinosa Pers., to parameterise an individual-based population model. This plant is currently threatened by adverse fire regimes and the pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi. We tested a range of fire and disease scenarios over various time horizons relevant to the population dynamics of the species and the practicalities of management. While fire does not kill the disease, it does trigger plant demographic responses that may promote population persistence when disease is present. Population decline is reduced with frequent fires because they promote the greatest number of germination events, but frequent fires reduce adult stages, which is detrimental in the long term. Fire suppression is the best action for the non-seedling stages but does not promote recruitment. With disease, frequent fire produced the highest total population sizes for shorter durations, but for longer durations fire suppression gave the highest population sizes. When seedlings were excluded, fire suppression was the best action. We conclude that fire management can play an important role in mitigating threats posed by this disease. The best approach to reducing declines may be to manage populations across a spatial mosaic in which the sequence of frequent fires and suppression are staggered across patches depending on the level of disease at the site.


  • Regan, Helen M
  • Keith, David A
  • Regan, Tracey J
  • Tozer, Mark G
  • Tootell, Naomi

publication date

  • November 2011