Aquatic Sciences

, 80:21 | Cite as

Post-wildfire recovery of invertebrate diversity in drought-affected headwater streams

  • B. J. Robson
  • E. T. Chester
  • T. G. Matthews
  • K. Johnston
Research Article


As climate change progresses, large (> 400 km2) fires are becoming more frequent across many biomes, often in association with intense drought. We analysed 5 years of stream macroinvertebrate data, collected before and after a wildfire that burnt > 750 km2 of the Grampians National Park, Australia. The wildfire occurred in 2006, during a 12-year drought (1997–2009). We tested the hypotheses that wildfire alters macroinvertebrate assemblage composition, and reduces taxon richness and among-stream variation. Five burnt and five unburnt headwater stream reaches were compared before and after the fire; a larger number of reaches were used to examine temporal trends in taxon richness. Wildfire altered macroinvertebrate assemblage composition and reduced among-stream variation in assemblages, but was not associated with low reach-scale taxon richness. Fire was associated with increased abundances of predators specialised for soft-sediments, and with reduced abundances of shredding and algal grazing caddisflies. In the short term, suspension feeder abundances increased, overwhelming the negative effects of drought on their abundance. Within 2 years post-fire, assemblages in burnt streams were similar to unburnt streams; within 3 years, among-reach variability in assemblage composition among burnt streams resembled that in unburnt streams. Invertebrate assemblages recovered rapidly in these streams despite the large areal extent of the fire. However, the frequency of wildfires is increasing, potentially permanently altering riparian vegetation structure and composition. As headwater streams depend on riparian vegetation for shading, woody debris and leaf litter, such permanent changes will likely affect biodiversity in headwater streams.


Fire regime Intermittent streams Mediterranean climate Millennium Drought Mega-fire Mount Lubra wildfire 



Deakin University, Murdoch University and Parks Victoria funded this research, carried out with DSE research permit 10005640 and DPI fisheries research permit RP1076. Parks Victoria also provided access to fire history mapping. Travis Howson and Steve Wickson provided field and laboratory assistance.


  1. Adie H, Richert S, Kirkman KP, Lawes MJ (2011) The heat is on: frequent, high intensity fire in bracken (Pteridium esculentum) drives mortality of the sprouting tree Protea caffra in temperate grasslands. Plant Ecol 212:2013–2022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen AN, Cook GD, Corbett LK, Douglas MM, Eager RW, Russell-Smith J et al (2005) Fire frequency and biodiversity conservation in Australian tropical savannas: implications from the Kapalga fire experiment. Austr Ecol 30:155–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson MJ, Gorley RN, Clarke KR (2008) PERMANOVA + for PRIMER: guide to software and statistical methods. PRIMER-E, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  4. Arkle RS, Pilliod DS (2010) Prescribed fires as ecological surrogates for wildfires: a stream and riparian perspective. For Ecol Manag 259:893–903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arkle RS, Pilliod DS, Strickler K (2010) Fire, flow and dynamic equilibrium in stream macroinvertebrate communities. Freshw Biol 55:299–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Attiwill PM, Adams MA (2013) Mega-fires, enquiries and politics in the eucalypt forests of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. Forest Ecol Manag 294:45–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bart RR, Tague CL (2017) The impact of wildfire on baseflow recession rates in California. Hydrol Proc 31:1662–1673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker A, Robson BJ (2009) Riverine macroinvertebrate assemblages up to eight years after riparian restoration in a semi-rural catchment in Victoria, Australia. Mar Freshw Res 60:1309–1316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bogan MA, Chester ET, Datry T, Murphy AL, Robson BJ, Ruhi A, Stubbington R, Whitney JE (2017) Resistance, resilience and community recovery in intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams. In: Bonada N, Boulton AJ, Datry T (eds) Intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams: ecology and management. Academic Press, Burlington, pp 349–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bradstock RA (2008) Effects of large fires on biodiversity in south-eastern Australia: disaster or template for diversity? Int J Wildland Fire 17:809–822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bradstock RA, Penman T, Boer M, Price O, Clarke H (2014) Divergent responses of fire to recent warming and drying across south-eastern Australia. Glob Change Biol 20:1412–1428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chester ET, Robson BJ (2011) Drought refuges, spatial scale and the recolonization of invertebrates in non-perennial streams. Freshw Biol 56:2094–2104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chester ET, Matthews TG, Howson TJ, Johnston K, Mackie JK, Strachan SR (2014) Constraints upon the response of fish and crayfish to environmental flow releases in a regulated headwater stream network. Plos One 9:e91925CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Chester ET, Miller AD, Valenzuela I, Wickson SJ, Robson BJ (2015) Drought survival strategies, dispersal potential and persistence of invertebrate species in an intermittent stream landscape. Freshw Biol 60:2066–2083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clarke KR, Gorley RN (2006) PRIMER v6: user manual/tutorial. PRIMER-E Ltd, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooper SC, Page HM, Wiseman SW, Klose K et al (2015) Physicochemical and biological responses of streams to wildfire severity in riparian zones. Freshw Biol 60:2600–2619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Downes BJ, Hindell JS, Bond NR (2000) What’s in a site? Variation in lotic macroinvertebrate density and diversity in a spatially replicated experiment. Aust Ecol 25:128–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Downes BJ, Barmuta LA, Fairweather PG, Faith DP, Keough MJ, Lake PS et al (2002) Monitoring ecological impacts: concepts and practice in flowing waters. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Downes BJ, Lake PS, Glaister A, Bond NR (2006) Effects of sand sedimentation on the macroinvertebrate fauna of lowland streams: are the effects consistent? Freshw Biol 51:144–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Finn DS, Bonada N, Murria C, Hughes JM (2011) Small but mighty: headwaters are vital to stream network biodiversity at two levels of organization. J N Am Benthol Soc 30:963–980CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fraterrigo JM, Rusak JA (2008) Disturbance-driven changes in the variability of ecological patterns and processes. Ecol Lett 11:756–770CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Gooderham JPR, Barmuta L, Davies PE (2007) Upstream heterogeneous zones: small stream systems structured by a lack of competence? J N Am Benthol Soc 26:365–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hershkovitz Y, Gasith A (2013) Resistance, resilience and community dynamics in mediterranean climate streams. Hydrobiol 719:59–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hughes L (2011) Climate change and Australia: key vulnerable regions. Reg Env Change 11(Suppl1):S89-S195Google Scholar
  25. Jackson BK, Sullivan SMP, Malison RL (2012) Wildfire severity mediates fluxes of plant material and terrestrial invertebrates to mountain streams. For Ecol Manag 278:27–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnston K, Matthews TG, Robson BJ, Chester ET (2014) Impacts of extreme events on south-eastern Australian freshwater crayfish. Freshw Crayfish 20:61–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lake PS (2000) Disturbance, patchiness and diversity in streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 19:573–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lake PS (2011) Drought and aquatic ecosystems: effects and responses. Wiley-Blackwell, ChichesterCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Larned ST, Datry T, Arscott DB, Tockner K (2010) Emerging concepts in temporary river ecology. Freshw Biol 55:717–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lind PR, Robson BJ, Mitchell BD (2006) The influence of drought on patterns of variation in macroinvertebrate assemblages across a spatial hierarchy in two lowland rivers. Freshw Biol 51:2282–2295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mackie JK, Chester ET, Matthews TG, Robson BJ (2013) Macroinvertebrate response to environmental flows in headwater streams in western Victoria, Australia. Ecol Eng 53:100–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Malison RL, Baxter CV (2010) Effects of wildfire of varying severity on benthic stream insect assemblages and emergence. J N Am Benthol Soc 29:1324–1338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mihuc TB, Minshall GW (2005) The trophic basis of reference and post-fire stream food webs 10 years after wildfire in Yellowstone National Park. Aquat Sci 67:541–548Google Scholar
  34. Minshall GW (2003) Responses of stream benthic invertebrates to fire. For Ecol Manag 178:155–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moritz MA, Parisien M, Battlori E, Krawchuk MA, Van Dorn J, Ganz DJ et al (2012) Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity. Ecosphere 3:e49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nyman P, Sheridan GJ, Smith HG, Lane PNJ (2011) Evidence of debris flow occurrence after wildfire in upland catchments of south-east Australia. Geomorphology 125:383–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Toole P, Robson BJ, Chambers JM (2017) Riparian vegetation condition is associated with invertebrate assemblage composition in intermittent and humic streams. Aquat Sci 79:277–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Oliver AA, Bogan MT, Herbst DB, Dahlgren RA (2012) Short-term changes in stream macroinvertebrate communities following a severe fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California. Hydrobiologia 694:117–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Peat M, Chester H, Norris R (2005) River ecosystem response to bushfire disturbance: interaction with flow regulation. Aust For 68:153–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pettit NE, Naiman RJ (2007) Fire in the riparian zone: characteristics and ecological consequences. Ecosystems 10:673–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rackemann SL, Robson BJ, Matthews TG (2013) Conservation value of waterfalls as habitat for lotic insects of western Victoria, Australia. Aquat Conserv 23:171–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Robson BJ, Hogan M, Forrester T (2005) Hierarchical patterns of invertebrate assemblage structure in stony upland streams change with time and flow permanence. Freshw Biol 50:944–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Robson BJ, Matthews TG, Lind PR, Thomas N (2008) Pathways for algal recolonization in seasonally-flowing streams. Freshw Biol 52:2385–2401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Robson BJ, Chester ET, Matthews TG, Mitchell BD (2013) Disturbance and the role of refuges in mediterranean-climate streams. Hydrobiologia 719:77–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Romme WH, Boyce MS, Gresswell R, Merrill EH, Minshall GW, Whitlock C et al (2011) Twenty years after the 1988 Yellowstone Fires: lessons about disturbance and ecosystems. Ecosystems 14:1196–1215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sillins U, Bladon KD, Kelly EN, Esch E, Spence JR, Stone M et al (2014) Five-year legacy of wildfire and salvage logging impacts on nutrient runoff and aquatic plant, invertebrate and fish productivity. Ecohydrology 7:1508–1523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Smith HG, Sheridan GJ, Lane PNJ, Noske PJ, Heijnis H (2011) Changes to sediment sources following wildfire in a forested upland catchment, southeastern Australia. Hydrol Proc 25:2878–2889CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stephens SL, Burrows N, Buyantuyev A, Gray RW, Keane RE, Kubian R et al (2014) Temperate and boreal forest mega-fires: characteristics and challenges. Front Ecol Env 12:115–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stevens M, White J, Cooke R (2012) Short-term impact of a mega-fire on small mammal communities during prolonged drought. Proc R Soc Vic 124:61–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stewart BA, Close PG, Cook PA, Davies PM (2013) Upper thermal tolerances of key taxonomic groups of stream invertebrates. Hydrobiologia 718:131–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Thomson JR, Bond NR, Cunningham SC, Metzeling L, Reich P, Thompson RM, MacNally R (2012) The influences of climatic variation and vegetation on stream biota: lessons from the Big Dry in southeastern Australia. Glob Change Biol 18:1582–1596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tolhurst KG, Turvey ND (1992) Effects of bracken (Pteridium esculentum) on eucalypt regeneration in west-central Victoria. For Ecol Manag 54:45–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. van Dijk AIJM., Beck HE, Crosbie RS, de Jeu RAM, Podger GM, Timbal B, Viney NR (2013) The Millennium Drought in southeast Australia (2001–2009): natural and human causes and implications for water resources, ecosystems, economy, and society. Water Resour Res 49:1040–1057CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Verkaik I, Rieradevall M, Cooper SD, Melack JM, Dudley TL, Prat N (2013a) Fire as a disturbance in mediterranean-climate streams. Hydrobiologia 719:353–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Verkaik I, Vila-Escale M, Rieradevall M, Prat N (2013b) Seasonal drought plays a stronger role than wildfire in shaping macroinvertebrate communities of mediterranean streams. Int Rev Hydrobiol 98:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Verkaik I, Prat N, Rieradevall M, Reich P, Lake PS (2014) Effects of bushfire on macroinvertebrate communities in south-east Australian streams affected by a megadrought. Mar Freshw Res 65:359–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Verkaik I, Vila-Escale M, Rieradevall M, Baxter CV et al (2015) Stream macroinvertebrate community responses to fire: are they the same in different fire-prone biogeographic regions? Freshw Sci 34:1527–1541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Viera NKM, Clements WH, Guevara LS, Jacobs BF (2004) Resistance and resilience of stream insect communities to repeated hydrologic disturbances after a wildfire. Freshw Biol 49:1243–1259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Warwick RM, Clarke KR (1993) Increased variability as a symptom of stress in marine communities. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 172:215–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whitney JE, Gido KB, Pilger TJ, Propst DL, Turner TF (2015) Consecutive wildfires affect stream biota in cold and warmwater dryland river networks. Freshw Sci 34:1510–1526CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wickson SJ, Chester ET, Valenzuela I, Halliday B, Lester RE, Matthews TG et al (2014) Population genetic structure of the Australian caddisfly Lectrides varians Mosely (Trichoptera: Leptoceridae) and the identification of cryptic species in south-eastern Australia. J Insect Conserv 18:1037–1046CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Zelt RB, Wohl EE (2004) Channel and woody debris characteristics in adjacent burned and unburned watersheds a decade after wildfire, Park County, Wyoming. Geomorphology 57:217–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. J. Robson
    • 1
  • E. T. Chester
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. G. Matthews
    • 2
  • K. Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental and Conservation Sciences, School of Veterinary and Life SciencesMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.School of Life and Environmental SciencesDeakin UniversityWarrnamboolAustralia

Personalised recommendations