Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 1607–1625 | Cite as

Reptile responses to fire and the risk of post-disturbance sampling bias

  • Don A. DriscollEmail author
  • Annabel L. Smith
  • Samantha Blight
  • John Maindonald
Original Paper


Altered fire regimes are a driver of biodiversity decline. To plan effective management, we need to know how species are influenced by fire and to develop theory describing fire responses. Animal responses to fire are usually measured using methods that rely on animal activity, but animal activity may vary with time since fire, potentially biasing results. Using a novel approach for detecting bias in the pit-fall trap method, we found that leaf-litter dependent reptiles were more active up to 6 weeks after fire, giving a misleading impression of abundance. This effect was not discovered when modelling detectability with zero-inflated binomial models. Two species without detection bias showed early-successional responses to time since fire, consistent with a habitat-accommodation succession model. However, a habitat specialist did not have the predicted low abundance after fire due to increased post-fire movement and non-linear recovery of a key habitat component. Interactions between fire and other processes therefore must be better understood to predict reptile responses to changing fire-regimes. We conclude that there is substantial bias when trapping reptiles after fire, with species that are otherwise hard to detect appearing to be abundant. Studies that use a survey method based on animal activity such as bird calls or animal movements, likely face a similar risk of bias when comparing recently-disturbed with control sites.


Adaptive management Biological legacies Disturbance regime Keystone species Prescribed burning State and transition model 



We are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by Joe Tilley DENR SA and fire crews who completed the planned burns. We thank Meredith Henderson for access to maps and support throughout the project. Thanks to DENR Port Augusta who provided field communications. The field work was completed with the assistance of L. Ahrendt, Z. Auburn, B. Bader, D. Barry, J. Bilney, S. Burgess, C. Cameron, A. Castañeda, N. Coggan, J. Crierie, D. Cunningham, S. Dalgairns, S. Dardanelli, N. Diaz, E. Dix, M. Doughty, R. Dudaniec, T. Egan, C. Element, T. Forrest, D. Frahm, M. Harris, E. Hoffman, T. Smith-Harding, C. Jeong, S. Johnson, H. Jung, J. Kirkby, T. Klinger, L. Kyriacou, S. Lath, W. Lawrence, C. Lawson, C. Li, C. Lovegrove, K. Marten, R. McGuiness, A. McGuire, W. McLachlan, V. Meyer, M. Mihailova, A. Mogoutnov, B. Muelders, A. Murphy, A. Nedosyko, K. Pelgrim, A. Quarmby, T. Rawson, A. Seidel, R. Shannon, D. Sortino, S. South, K. Tiitsaar, A. Treils, A. Waller, S. Way, M. Westgate, H. Westgate, J. Williams, N. Yazdani. The project was funded by the Department for Environment and Heritage, South Australia, Flinders University and the Australia and Pacific Science Foundation. Write up was completed with funding from the Applied Environmental Decision Analysis Commonwealth Environment Research Facility. Animals were handled under permit E194 of the Flinders University Animal Welfare committee, and DENR SA permit to undertake scientific research Q24788.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 57 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (DOC 118 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (DOC 95 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (DOC 48 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Don A. Driscoll
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Annabel L. Smith
    • 1
    • 2
  • Samantha Blight
    • 2
  • John Maindonald
    • 3
  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Mathematics & Its Applications, Mathematical Sciences InstituteAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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