Conserving long unburnt vegetation is important for bird species, guilds and diversity

Abstract

Landscape-level wildfires have a major role in structuring faunal assemblages, particularly in fire-prone landscapes. These effects are mediated by changes to vegetation structure and composition that directly influence the availability of shelter, feeding and breeding resources. We investigated the response of a semi-arid shrubland bird community in Western Australia to the prevailing fire regime by examining the abundance, diversity and guild structure in relation to time since fire. We also examined vegetation structural attributes in relation to time since fire. We surveyed 32 sites ranging in age from 12 to 84 years since last fire. A total of 845 birds from 40 species were recorded. Vegetation structure varied with fire history with old and very old sites characterised by less bare ground, more leaf litter cover and greater canopy cover. Bird community composition varied with time since fire, driven by increased bird species richness and abundance of insectivores, granivores/frugivores, golden whistlers, grey shrike-thrush and red-capped robins with time since fire. Frequent, intense landscape-scale fires transform the landscape into homogeneous young shrublands, which may render vegetation unsuitable for several species and guilds.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by the Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association. Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Wanarra station provided access to their land. Luke Bayley from BHA provided on-site support. BHA provided GIS layers, fire histories and assisted with experimental design. TSD was supported by scholarships from Earthwatch Institute Australia, BHA and Edith Cowan University while conducting this research. Bird survey methods were approved by the Edith Cowan University Animal Ethics Committee (11226).

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Correspondence to Robert A. Davis.

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Robert A. Davis and Tim S. Doherty—Joint lead authors.

Communicated by David Westcott.

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Davis, R.A., Doherty, T.S., van Etten, E.J. et al. Conserving long unburnt vegetation is important for bird species, guilds and diversity. Biodivers Conserv 25, 2709–2722 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1196-5

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Keywords

  • Chronosequence
  • Disturbance ecology
  • Fire
  • Mediterranean
  • Prescribed burning