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Impact of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in southwest Australia: a case study for developing a community-based model in adaptive management

Abstract

Traditional burning regimes have long been employed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate high-intensity wildfires. The link between changes in the distribution, success, and timing of breeding in seabirds and climatic and oceanographic variation in the marine environment has been established, with migratory seabirds less able to respond to climate variability than resident species. While climate-driven changes can also occur on seabird breeding islands, few data are available regarding potential impacts. Here we investigate the frequency and severity of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in Western Australia, regarding the 2020 fire on Figure of Eight Island in the Recherche Archipelago. A lack of quantitative, historical surveys limited our ability to quantify the number of shearwaters lost in this event. However, a review of available data suggests thousands of birds die due to burning every one or two years across the Archipelago. On Figure of Eight, shearwater burrow occupancy and density were low 12 months post-burn (0.25 and 0.02 ± 0.03, respectively), with minimal evidence of recovery (very few burrows detected) 23 months post-burn. We discuss opportunities to develop an adaptive, community-based program for reinstating collaborative, cultural methods of fire management and monitoring regimes on seabird breeding islands in Australia.

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Data Availability

The raw data from this study are available online through the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies data portal.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the Elders, past, present, and emerging, who guide our protocols for working on land and sea country. We honor their spirit and knowledge as we strive to uphold their custodial obligation to care for the country. Valuable logistical support was provided by Andrew Fidler (Adrift Lab), Black Jack and Marc Payne Charters, Stephen Butler (DBCA), and members of the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, especially Tjaltjraak Rangers Lachlan Adamson for providing imagery and Chisoem Rivers, Zane Vincent, Jeremy Smith, Hayleigh Graham, and Zoe Bullen for assistance in the field. We thank Nathan McQuoid for sharing his knowledge during many insightful discussions of island botanicals. Comments from two anonymous reviewers improved earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Funding

Special thanks to Detached Cultural Organization and the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation for funding this project via their Healthy Country Plan program, supported by the Australian Federal Government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Lavers.

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Sites were visited with permission from the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions (DBCA).

CRediT author statement

Jennifer L Lavers: Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Data Curation, Writing - Original Draft; Genevieve R Carey: Visualization, Writing – Original Draft; David R Guilfoyle: Funding acquisition, Project administration, Writing – Review & Editing; Ron Reynolds: Funding acquisition, Project administration, Supervision.

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Lavers, J.L., Carey, G.R., Guilfoyle³, D.R. et al. Impact of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in southwest Australia: a case study for developing a community-based model in adaptive management. Hum Ecol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-022-00338-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-022-00338-0

Keywords

  • Ardenna
  • Bushfire
  • Climate change
  • Cultural burning
  • Forest fire
  • Figure of Eight Island
  • Recherche Archipelago
  • Western Australia