Landscape, fire and habitat: which features of recently burned heathland influence site occupancy of an early successional specialist?
Multiple ecological drivers generate spatial patterns in species’ distributions. Changes to natural disturbance regimes can place early successional habitat specialists at an increased risk of extinction by altering landscape patterns of habitat suitability.
We developed a series of hypotheses to evaluate the effects of landscape structure, fire history, and site-level habitat quality on site occupancy by an early successional specialist, the eastern chestnut mouse (Pseudomys gracilicaudatus).
We obtained eight years of monitoring data from 26 sites in recently burned heathland in southeast Australia. We used generalised linear models to determine which explanatory variables were related to occupancy. We also explored predictability in patterns of small mammal species co-occurrence.
Landscape structure (patch area, landscape heterogeneity) was strongly related to site occupancy. Site occupancy was associated with dead shrubs in the understory and rock cover on ground layer, but was not directly influenced by recent or historical fire. Contrary to contemporary ecological theory, we found no predictable species associations in our early successional community.
We recommend surveys take account of landscape configuration and proximity to suitable habitat for optimal results. Fire regimes expected to promote eastern chestnut mouse population growth should encourage the retention of critical habitat features rather than be based on temporal rates of successional stages. For management to adequately account for post-disturbance patterns in early successional communities, a species-by-species, multi-scaled approach to research is necessary.