Skip to main content

Long-unburnt habitat is critical for the conservation of threatened vertebrates across Australia

Abstract

Context

Increases in fire frequency, intensity and extent are occurring globally. Relative to historical, Indigenous managed conditions, contemporary landscapes are often characterised by younger age classes of vegetation and a much smaller representation of long-unburnt habitat.

Objectives

We argue that, to conserve many threatened vertebrate species in Australia, landscape management should emphasise the protection of existing long-unburnt patches from fire, as well as facilitate the recruitment of additional long-unburnt habitat, while maintaining historically relevant age distributions of more recently burned patches.

Methods

We use a range of case studies and ecosystem types to illustrate three lines of evidence: (1) that many threatened vertebrate species depend on mid- to late-successional ecosystem attributes; (2) disturbance to long-unburnt habitat tends to increase risk of future disturbance and ecosystem collapse; and (3) contemporary landscapes exhibit a range of characteristics that differ to historical conditions and require context-specific management.

Conclusions

It is crucial that we adequately consider the implications of altered contemporary landscapes for management activities that aim to conserve threatened vertebrates. Contemporary landscapes often lack a range of critical structural and compositional components typical of late-successional habitat that are required for the persistence of threatened vertebrates. We need to shift towards strategic, objective-driven approaches that identify and protect long-unburnt habitats and promote their recruitment to enable recovery of many declining and threatened species.

Introduction

Ecological disturbance regimes are being disrupted worldwide, with changing fire regimes a growing issue (Webster et al. 2005; Seidl et al. 2017; ; Bowman et al. 2020). Human induced changes to the frequency, intensity and extent of fires are currently causing widespread impacts on biodiversity globally (Giam 2017; Kleinman et al. 2019; Kelly et al. 2020). In many ecosystems, increasingly frequent wildfires are symptomatic of anthropogenic climate change, with weather-induced pyrogeographic shifts occurring globally (Duane et al. 2021). Since 1979, there has been a global increase of 19% in mean fire weather season length, and a doubling of the percentage of global vegetated area experiencing long fire weather seasons (Jolly et al. 2015). In California, the increasing extent of summer fires between 1972 and 2018 has led to a 405% increase in annual burnt area (Williams et al. 2019). Along with increasing temperatures and increasingly severe fire weather, wildfires are predicted to become both more frequent and extreme (Bowman et al. 2020), with such changes compromising the structural and functional attributes of vulnerable ecosystems (Westerling et al. 2011). While the specific type, frequency, intensity, and extent of fire events varies substantially between different ecosystem types and vegetation communities, relative increase in these factors is a common theme worldwide (Bowman et al. 2020). These changes can be considered as a shift in the frequency distribution of fire regime attribute values across the landscape (Fig. 1), which has flow-on effects to structural and functional characteristics at a landscape scale.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Conceptual diagram showing a shift in the frequency distribution of historical and contemporary fire regime attributes across a hypothetical savanna landscape. Historical landscapes contained more regrowth of overstorey trees and complex structural attributes, such as tree cavities, coarse woody debris, and diverse shrub/midstorey layers. Contemporary landscapes with high fire frequencies/intensities exhibit much lower structural complexity and mid-storey diversity, with low levels of overstorey regeneration. Point attributes of the fire regime may include factors such as frequency, intensity, timing and seasonality, while spatial attributes often include measurements of extent, patchiness and/or shape. Here, we represent frequency and intensity as a mean value within each pixel, and these values do not necessarily covary. For example, a single pixel could display high frequency fires but have low intensity fires or vice versa. Spatial properties are represented by the arrangement and connectivity of pixels, broadly reflecting patterns of spatial heterogeneity across the landscape

Globally, at least 4400 IUCN-listed threatened species are being adversely affected by contemporary fire regimes (Kelly et al. 2020; i.e. changes to the frequency, timing, intensity and extent of fire events; Gill 1975; McCarthy et al. 1999). The vast majority of these species are predominantly or partly threatened by increasing, rather than decreasing, fire frequency or intensity (Kelly et al. 2020). In Australia, studies suggest that between 39 and 69% of all threatened taxa would benefit from more effective management of fire regimes (Kearney et al. 2020; Ward et al. 2021), including around 64% of threatened birds, 57% of threatened mammals, 41% of threatened frogs, and 33% of threatened reptiles (Ward et al. 2021). Here, we aim to demonstrate that changing fire regime attributes, leading to loss of long-unburnt vegetation, has substantial consequences for threatened vertebrates and their habitats.

While the primary drivers of extinction risk vary among vertebrate groups and zoogeographic regions (Howard et al. 2020), some taxa clearly show associations between threatened species and the earliest or latest vegetation successional stages (Thomas and Morris 1994; Urquiza-Haas et al. 2011). We argue that many threatened Australian vertebrate species are associated with long-unburnt habitats, and so landscape management should explicitly emphasise the protection of existing long-unburnt patches from fire, as well as facilitate the recruitment of additional long-unburnt habitat.

Animal species exhibit a diversity of fire-related habitat requirements, influenced by different aspects of fire history such as time since fire, long-term mean inter-fire interval, and fire seasonality. While some species require habitat conditions generated by frequent or recent fire (Swanson et al. 2011), we present the case that those requiring long-unburnt or rarely-burnt habitat are broadly susceptible to a common directionality of intensifying fire regimes. We use a range of case studies and ecosystem types from Australia to illustrate three main points: (1) many threatened vertebrates depend on mid- to late-successional ecosystem attributes; (2) disturbance to long-unburnt habitat tends to induce feedback loops that promote future disturbance and increase risk of ecosystem collapse (see Bergstrom et al. 2021); and (3) contemporary landscapes exhibit a range of characteristics that differ to historical conditions and require context-specific management, including the protection and recruitment of long-unburnt habitat.

The decline of long-unburnt habitat

We contend that contemporary Australian landscapes tend to be dominated by younger age classes of vegetation, and have a much smaller representation of long-unburnt areas, compared to historical conditions. We define historical conditions as those existing prior to European colonisation (starting in 1788), after which dispossession of land from Traditional Owners and subsequent environmental changes became increasingly influential. Unfortunately, data on the historical age-class distribution of vegetation communities is extremely sparse, due to the difficulty in obtaining quantitative data from up to thousands of years in the past. There are, however, a small number of examples that reflect this broader pattern or occur in regions that were being traditionally managed by Indigenous Australians well into the twentieth century. For example, only about 1% of mountain ash forest in south-eastern Australia remains in a mature or old-growth age category (> 120–150 years), compared to historical (i.e. before 1788) levels of 30–60% (Lindenmayer 2009; Lindenmayer et al. 2012). In north-western Australia, on the traditional land of the Karajarri people (where traditional lifestyles were being lived by some families up until the 1960s), the proportion of desert shrub and grassland vegetation with a post-fire age of at least 4 years has been reduced from 90 to 30% since the 1940s (Blackwood et al. 2022). Another study found that the proportion of semi-arid shrublands with a post-fire age of at least 50 years was reduced from about 63% in 1998 to 34% after 2005, due to a series of large fires in 1999–2004, although in that case it is unclear where this change sits relative to historical fluctuations (Doherty et al. 2017). Similar information is not available for most other regions or ecosystems, but low amounts of long-unburnt vegetation have also been recorded in Banksia- and Melaleuca-dominated woodlands in the far south-west (Wilson et al. 2014), Banksia-dominated ecosystems on Kangaroo Island (Hogendoorn et al. 2021), tropical savannas of northern Australia (Russell-Smith et al. 2012), semi-arid mallee communities (Clarke et al. 2010), and a range of spinifex (Triodia spp.) dominated communities (Box 1; Fig. 2).

Contemporary long-unburnt patches often consist of small and isolated areas nested within a broader, more recently disturbed matrix (Camp et al. 1997). These patches can even be deterministic in origin, occurring in parts of the landscape that are naturally less prone to disturbance events (Robinson et al. 2013), whether due to isolation from anthropogenic influence or subtly different abiotic characteristics (e.g. soil moisture availability, topography). However, as is the case for many forms of chronic environmental degradation, shifting baselines make the identification of changes to age-class distributions of vegetation communities very difficult to observe and manage accordingly (Soga and Gaston 2018). Further, increasingly acute impacts resulting from climate change are likely compounding the issue, highlighted by the extreme 2019–2020 fire season. Recent analysis by an expert panel suggested that at least 28 ecological communities had > 50% of their mapped area affected by this single fire season (Keith et al. 2021).

Contributing factors to the decline in long-unburnt habitat include disruption of Indigenous burning regimes (Blackwood et al. 2022), extreme fire weather conditions due to climate change (de Groot et al. 2013; van Oldenborgh et al. 2020), increased use of prescribed burning (Penman et al. 2011), and interaction with other threatening processes such as logging (Lindenmayer et al. 2009, 2021a, b) and weed invasion (Setterfield et al. 2010). Evidence for feedbacks is emerging, whereby the loss of old growth vegetation or ‘natural firebreaks’—such as moist rainforest vegetation in topographic drainage lines—may increase the severity and/or connectivity of fire in the landscape (Lindenmayer et al. 2011a, b).

As the spatial distribution and extent of long-unburnt habitat declines, threats to species persistence can manifest in several ways. In the case of increasingly frequent fire, threats occur because: (1) the life histories of some fire-sensitive species require long inter-fire intervals due to slow population growth or age at maturity (Bowman et al. 2014; Enright et al. 2015; von Takach Dukai et al. 2018); (2) critical habitat features for many species are associated with time since fire (Gibbons et al. 2000; Nimmo et al. 2012; Croft et al. 2016; Doherty et al. 2017); and (3) important habitat features can be associated with inter-fire interval (e.g. fire in long-unburnt habitat generates post-fire habitat structures, such as large dead standing trees, that do not occur when inter-fire intervals are short; Pereoglou et al. 2011; O’Loughlin et al. 2020).

The value of mid- to late-successional ecosystem attributes

Many threatened species depend on one or more critical habitat components, such as tree cavities, coarse woody debris, and large grass hummocks. These critical habitat features are often most abundant in long-unburnt habitats. For example, in south-western Australia, four threatened bird species (the western ground parrot Pezoporus flaviventris, western bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris, noisy scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus, and black-throated whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis) are restricted to scattered remaining patches of vegetation communities dominated by heaths, sedges, and low eucalypts (Smith 1985). These birds rely on relatively moderate (5–10 years post-fire) to long (10+) intervals between fire events for population persistence (Meredith et al. 1984; Smith 1991, 1996; Burbidge et al. 2007), with more frequent fire causing the loss of functional and structural attributes that individuals rely on for food resources and protection from predators (Burbidge 2003).

Tree cavities are a commonly used resource by vertebrates worldwide, with 18.1% of all bird species in the world using cavities for nesting, and 13.2% of those species listed as threatened under IUCN Red List criteria (van der Hoek et al. 2017). In Australia, tree cavities are used by over 300 vertebrate species (Gibbons and Lindenmayer 2002), and are required for breeding by many threatened bird species, such as large forest owls (Tyto and Ninox spp.), the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), and swift parrot (Lathamus discolor). Cavities are also used for denning and shelter by threatened mammals and reptiles, such as the arboreal Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelidus leadbeateri) and yellow-bellied glider (Petaurus australis), and semi-arboreal broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides). Cavity formation in Australia is typically initiated by (1) natural death and decay of limbs or trunks (Gibbons and Lindenmayer 2002), (2) disturbance events such as cyclones or fires (Woolley et al. 2018), and (3) piping of trunks or limbs by termites (Woolley et al. 2018; Penton et al. 2020). There can also be interactions between these factors (e.g. with mechanical damage from fires allowing termite ingress into trees). In some southern Australian forests, cavities that are suitable for vertebrates often require 120 to 180 years of tree growth to develop, and sometimes longer (Wormington and Lamb 1999; Gibbons et al. 2000; Gibbons and Lindenmayer 2002). In forests dominated by tree species that are killed by fire, this means long periods without fire may be necessary for hollows to form. In forests dominated by trees that regenerate following fire, the relative abundance of hollows may be determined more by the age of the trees and past land use (e.g. logging).

Unfortunately, increasing disturbance frequency and intensity, particularly from logging and wildfires (Lindenmayer et al. 1997), and sometimes even low intensity prescription burns (Parnaby et al. 2010), is rapidly reducing the abundance of cavity-bearing trees across much of Australia’s southern forested landscapes. These factors have resulted in several Australian jurisdictions listing “the loss of hollow-bearing trees” as a key threatening process (Parnaby et al. 2010). In the frequently burnt tropical savanna of northern Australia, trees capable of supporting large (> 30 cm entrance diameter) cavities are scarce (Woolley et al. 2018; Penton et al. 2020), and it is well-established that high-intensity fires cause high rates of mortality in both the smallest and largest trees (Lehmann et al. 2009; Prior et al. 2009; Williams et al. 1999). Importantly, ecologically based fire management is often undertaken based on thresholds of lower and upper intervals of fire tolerance for a subset of plant species in an area, and fails to include the substantially longer inter-fire intervals required for the formation and preservation of habitat attributes such as tree cavities and coarse woody debris (Manning et al. 2007; Haslem et al. 2011; Croft et al. 2016).

This leads to the critically important distinction between species that persist in disturbed or early successional habitats and species that persist under regimes of high frequency disturbance (i.e. species for which the inter-fire interval matters; O’Loughlin et al. 2020). For example, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum can be relatively abundant in recently disturbed (e.g. 15–50 years post-fire) wet forest communities, but only if older cavity-bearing trees suitable for nesting and denning are present (Smith and Lindenmayer 1992). When very young forest is burnt, such legacy structures are absent from the regrowth vegetation and Leadbeater’s possum is unlikely to occur (Todd et al. 2016; Taylor et al. 2017; Nitschke et al. 2020). Similarly, the threatened eastern chestnut mouse (Pseudomys gracilicaudatus) tends to occupy early- to mid-successional phases of densely shrubby or heathland habitats (Fox 1982; Pereoglou et al. 2011). This species relies on collapsed dead shrubs for diurnal refuge sites, which are created by recent fire but are also less abundant in sites where younger heathland was burnt (Pereoglou et al. 2011, 2016).

When structural components of mid- to late-successional vegetation are present, the risk of predation by native (e.g. dingo Canis familiaris) and introduced (e.g. cat Felis catus and fox Vulpes vulpes) predators may decline due to differences between species in habitat preferences/associations and success of predation attempts (Dickman 1996; McGregor et al. 2015). The use of structural habitat features to reduce the risk of predation has been demonstrated to be important for a range of taxa (Janssen et al. 2007), including small mammals (Jacob and Brown 2000; Stokes et al. 2004) and birds (Chalfoun and Martin 2009). Recent wildfires markedly reduce habitat structural complexity across the landscape, potentially increasing vulnerability of threatened vertebrates to predation pressure. Indeed, research suggests some predators may actively seek out recently burnt areas because of the increased predation opportunities they offer (McGregor et al. 2014, 2015). Although many species may be adapted to survive the initial fire event (Nimmo et al. 2021; Jolly et al. 2022), post-fire survival can be significantly reduced by increased exposure to predators (Leahy et al. 2016; Wintle et al. 2020) and reductions in resource availability (Williams et al. 2010; Lindenmayer et al. 2011b).

Frequent disturbance increases risk of ecosystem collapse

In many ecosystems, disturbance events appear to promote conditions that increase the probability of subsequent disturbance. For example, recently burnt rainforest and moist forests are not only more prone to ignition (Lindenmayer et al. 2009), but are also more likely to experience high-severity fires than undisturbed patches (Zylstra 2018). Similarly, high severity fires increase the probability of future high severity fires in dry eucalypt forests (Barker and Price 2018). Such changes to the frequency or intensity of disturbance causes ecosystems to decline in spatial extent, lose keystone species, exhibit signals of environmental degradation, and eventually lose ecosystem services and functions (Keith et al. 2013; Bland et al. 2017, 2018; Sato and Lindenmayer 2018). In some instances, these positive feedback loops can modify the structural attributes of ecosystems to such an extent that they shift into a novel or alternate ecosystem state (Johnstone et al. 2010; Lindenmayer et al. 2011a, b; Young and Clements 2009). Indeed, across Australia, changes to fire regimes have already partially led to this type of ecosystem collapse in at least 12 major Australian ecosystem types, including a range of arid zone, cool temperate, high elevation, and Mediterranean communities (Bergstrom et al. 2021). While abrupt shifts in fire regimes sometimes result in highly visible sudden changes in ecosystem structures (Lindenmayer et al. 2011a, b), it is possible (in the absence of long-term monitoring programs) that more subtle changes are going undocumented in other communities due to long generation times of keystone species, and shifting baseline syndrome (Pauly 1995).

A prime example of the process by which disturbed habitats become more prone to disturbance is currently occurring in the vast areas of northern Australian savannas and warrants further discussion. Tropical savanna dominates northern Australia, representing approximately one quarter of the continent’s landmass. Tropical savannas are the most fire-prone biome on the planet (Andersen et al. 2012), with many areas of northern Australia burning annually due to a combination of natural ignitions and anthropogenic influences (Russell-Smith and Yates 2007). While fire is integral to maintaining this system (Bowman 2000; Bond and Parr 2010; Andersen 2021), the frequency, intensity and extent of wildfires has changed substantially over the past 200 years, resulting in landscapes dominated by highly simplified vegetation structure and the loss of structural characteristics that are relied upon by a diverse array of vertebrate fauna (Bowman et al. 2004; Russell-Smith et al. 2012; Woinarski and Legge 2013; von Takach et al. 2020).

The broadscale loss of spatial heterogeneity in vegetation structure across savanna landscapes leads to the promotion of species that are early-successional specialists or otherwise tolerant of frequent disturbance, particularly for birds and mammals (Andersen 2021). Further, introduced gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) is rapidly spreading through Australia's tropical savanna ecosystems, due to its preference for high frequency and high severity fires (Setterfield et al. 2010). With its large size and high biomass, the presence of gamba grass at a site promotes high severity fires, which contributes to loss of tree cover, conversion of savanna woodland to open grassland, and alters litter decomposition and nitrogen fluxes (Rossiter et al. 2003; Rossiter-Rachor et al. 2017). Together, these factors result in a strong feedback loop and a ‘trapped’ landscape. Such trapped landscapes are extremely difficult to convert back to historical conditions, often requiring costly and intensive manual or mechanical removal of weedy species and/or artificial sowing of species that were historically present (Gibson-Roy et al. 2010; Bassett et al. 2015; Sims et al. 2019). Worryingly, once an ecosystem reaches an alternative state, simply reversing the processes (e.g. increased fire frequency) that led to the change in state does not necessarily result in a reversion back to historical ecosystem structure and composition (Collins et al. 2021).

Challenges and opportunities for contemporary landscape management

The effects of habitat fragmentation and degradation on the persistence of plant and animal populations are well known (Andersen et al. 2004; Gerber et al. 2012; Banks and Lindenmayer 2014; Pavlova et al. 2017), with generalist and/or widespread species tending to be more able to persist in degraded or disturbance-prone environments (McKinney and Lockwood 1999; Zeeman et al. 2017; Richardson et al. 2018; Everingham et al. 2019). However, contemporary landscapes exhibit a large range of characteristics that differ to historical conditions. As discussed above, contemporary long-unburnt patches are often small and isolated areas that are nested within a more recently disturbed matrix (Camp et al. 1997; Parsons et al. 2011; Driscoll et al. 2021). In addition, many Australian ecosystems are missing a whole suite of important vertebrate ecosystem engineers that have gone locally, regionally, or globally extinct since European colonisation in 1788 (Fleming et al. 2014; Woinarski et al. 2015; Halstead et al. 2020). The regular foraging and burrowing activities of many extirpated rodent and marsupial species would have disturbed vast amounts of soil across the continent, with a myriad of ecological effects including the redistribution of resources (Mallen-Cooper et al. 2019), modification of plant demographics (Gordon and Letnic 2019), and moderation of fuel loads and fire characteristics (Hayward et al. 2016; Ryan et al. 2020). Simultaneously, exotic herbivores and predators have become dominant components of these ecosystems (Freeland 1990; Dickman 1996). Lastly, novel ecosystem attributes or states are produced through the invasion and establishment of exotic weed species that benefit from frequent disturbance (Fisher et al. 2009). All of this tells us that the structure and composition of the landscape matrix is, in many situations, vastly different to what would have occurred historically.

There is popular support for reinstating pre-European Indigenous burning regimes in Australia, but there is uncertainty about the nature of these practices and the associated landscape characteristics for most ecosystems (Prober et al. 2016; Bardsley et al. 2019). In many cases, burning was more frequent in the past, but the fires were smaller and often clustered around travelling routes and water points (e.g., (Bliege Bird et al. 2008; Burrows and Chapman 2018; Blackwood et al. 2022). For example, in the Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia, burning by Ngadju People was common, but the locations of fires across the landscape were very targeted rather than ubiquitous (Prober et al. 2016). Understanding Indigenous management techniques should be a key priority for many Australian ecosystems, and has cultural and ecological benefits (Greenwood et al. 2021). However, the loss of long-unburnt habitat patches, with respect to both their frequency and overall representation within landscapes, points to the need for active stakeholder collaboration to design appropriate management plans for landscapes that are managed for multiple, sometimes competing, objectives. Recent studies have begun to quantify age-class distributions of vegetation that would benefit species of conservation concern (Giljohann et al. 2018), highlighting the need for a greater extent of long-unburnt vegetation (Davies et al. 2018; Radford et al. 2021), and there may be opportunities to integrate other values and objectives into these tools.

It is crucial that we adequately consider the implications of novel environmental contexts when managing landscapes for threatened vertebrates, particularly in light of how little is known about historical conditions, including Indigenous burning practices, in many locations (Connor et al. 2018; Ross et al. 2020). The concepts of historical baselines, reference conditions, and benchmarking are entrenched in restoration and management practices around the world (Parkes et al. 2003; Stoddard et al. 2006; Jakobsson et al. 2020), so careful evaluation of the metrics and methods used for landscape management of biodiversity is critical (Kopf et al. 2015; Ruaro et al. 2021). In this sense, returning highly modified contemporary landscapes to historical management practices may not necessarily benefit the threatened species that require the most conservation management (Whitehead et al. 2003). For example, the application of a historical fire regime to a patch of long-unburnt grassy woodland may appear to be a suitable approach from a management perspective if it superficially imitates methods used by Traditional Owners; however, it could also threaten the persistence of species that depend on structural features associated with late-successional environments, because long-unburnt patches are now rare where they were once common. If such a method were applied to the entire landscape uniformly, in conjunction with adequate weed management, feral herbivore management, and predator management for a period of decades or centuries, long-unburnt patches could be indirectly created and maintained, but the species that depend on such patches may have long since been extirpated.

Thus, the contemporary landscape context should be carefully considered when aiming to protect existing long-unburnt patches, such as by reducing fire in the surrounding matrix to increase the size and number of long-unburnt patches. This should be in addition to common current approaches that focus on improving broad patterns of landscape heterogeneity or pyrodiversity, with the implicit goal of increasing the proportion of long-unburnt vegetation in the landscape. This idea has recently been emphasised in an assessment of the impacts of the 2019–2020 fire season, which found that 36 ecological communities require urgent protection of fire refuges from future fires, and 42 ecological communities require urgent protection of burnt areas from future fires (Keith et al. 2021).

The methods by which long-unburnt patches are protected from fire and other disturbances will differ between ecosystem types and regions. Modern fire management techniques in large landscapes may involve prescribed aerial burning, on-ground fire breaks, and an ongoing commitment to wildfire suppression. Where available, actions should consider and be informed by Traditional Owner customary knowledge and landscape management aspirations (Ansell et al. 2019). In some ecosystems, such as wet sclerophyll forests, the complete absence of disturbance events may be necessary for more than a century. In other cases, such as northern Australia, the careful application of prescribed burning over the course of one to two decades has reduced fire intensity in some regions (Murphy et al. 2015), although the loss of long-unburnt habitats is still a critical issue (Freeman et al. 2017). Managing fuel loads and protecting human lives and property is an additional consideration (Nolan et al. 2021), and we recommend that burning plans are informed by empirical tools such as multi-criteria decision analysis (Penman et al. 2020) and spatial prioritisation (Prato and Paveglio 2019). Recently, alternatives to the use of historical baselines have also been promoted, such as the recognition of “best‐on‐offer” reference states (Yen et al. 2019), and such alternatives may provide a more useful philosophical approach to biodiversity conservation in contemporary landscape contexts.

Broadly, we suggest that contemporary landscape management in Australia would benefit from greater emphasis on quantifying historical vegetation age-class distributions, as well as understanding the vegetation age-class distributions that benefit species of conservation concern. This is difficult due to the time scale of the broadscale habitat degradation and landscape modification that have occurred in many Australian ecosystems—a problem that replicating through space (e.g. via a chronosequence) can only partially address (Giljohann et al. 2018; Gosper et al. 2019). However, such information would help to address uncertainty around the extent to which contemporary vegetation age-class distributions truly represent a long-term downward trajectory. Ultimately, if we are to conserve habitat features critical to the persistence and recovery of declining and threatened species, ad hoc species conservation management (Scheele et al. 2018), driven by a lack of funding and a lack of science-based decision-making (Russell-Smith et al. 2015), needs to shift towards strategic, objective-driven approaches. Long-unburnt habitat is critical for the conservation of threatened vertebrates across Australia—we would be wise to ensure that the future of fire management in Australia includes strategies to actively protect and recruit long-unburnt habitats across this fire-prone continent.

Data availability

Not applicable.

Code availability

Not applicable.

References

  • Andersen AN (2021) Faunal responses to fire in Australian tropical savannas: insights from field experiments and their lessons for conservation management. Divers Distrib 27:828–843

    Google Scholar 

  • Andersen LW, Fog K, Damgaard C (2004) Habitat fragmentation causes bottlenecks and inbreeding in the European tree frog (Hyla arborea). Proc Biol Sci 271:1293–1302

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Andersen AN, Woinarski JCZ, Parr CL (2012) Savanna burning for biodiversity: fire management for faunal conservation in Australian tropical savannas. Austral Ecol 37:658–667

    Google Scholar 

  • Ansell J, Evans J, Ansell J, Evans J (2019) Contemporary aboriginal savanna burning projects in Arnhem land: a regional description and analysis of the fire management aspirations of traditional owners. Int J Wildland Fire 29:371–385

    Google Scholar 

  • Banks SC, Lindenmayer DB (2014) Inbreeding avoidance, patch isolation and matrix permeability influence dispersal and settlement choices by male agile antechinus in a fragmented landscape. J Anim Ecol 83:515–524

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bardsley DK, Prowse TAA, Siegfriedt C (2019) Seeking knowledge of traditional indigenous burning practices to inform regional bushfire management. Local Environ 24:727–745

    Google Scholar 

  • Barker JW, Price OF (2018) Positive severity feedback between consecutive fires in dry eucalypt forests of southern Australia. Ecosphere 9:e02110

    Google Scholar 

  • Bassett OD, Prior LD, Slijkerman CM et al (2015) Aerial sowing stopped the loss of alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) forests burnt by three short-interval fires in the Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia. For Ecol Manage 342:39–48

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell KJ, Doherty TS, Driscoll DA (2021) Predators, prey or temperature? Mechanisms driving niche use of a foundation plant species by specialist lizards. Proc R Soc B 288:20202633

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bergstrom DM, Wienecke BC, van den Hoff J et al (2021) Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic. Glob Change Biol 27:1692–1703

    Google Scholar 

  • Blackwood EMJ, Rangers K, Bayley S et al (2022) Pirra Jungku: comparison of traditional and contemporary fire practices on Karajarri Country, Western Australia. Ecol Manage Restor 23:83–92

    Google Scholar 

  • Bland LM, Regan TJ, Dinh MN et al (2017) Using multiple lines of evidence to assess the risk of ecosystem collapse. Proc R Soc B 284:20170660

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bland LM, Rowland JA, Regan TJ et al (2018) Developing a standardized definition of ecosystem collapse for risk assessment. Front Ecol Environ 16:29–36

    Google Scholar 

  • Bliege Bird R, Bird DW, Codding BF et al (2008) The “fire stick farming” hypothesis: Australian aboriginal foraging strategies, biodiversity, and anthropogenic fire mosaics. PNAS 105:14796–14801

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bond WJ, Parr CL (2010) Beyond the forest edge: ecology, diversity and conservation of the grassy biomes. Biol Conserv 143:2395–2404

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowman DM (2000) Australian rainforests: islands of green in a land of fire. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowman DMJS, Walsh A, Prior LD (2004) Landscape analysis of aboriginal fire management in Central Arnhem Land, north Australia. J Biogeogr 31:207–223

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowman DMJS, Murphy BP, Neyland DLJ et al (2014) Abrupt fire regime change may cause landscape-wide loss of mature obligate seeder forests. Glob Change Biol 20:1008–1015

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowman DMJS, Kolden CA, Abatzoglou JT et al (2020) Vegetation fires in the anthropocene. Nat Rev Earth Environ

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown SM (2014) Preliminary feasibility and risk assessment study for the introduction of the mallee emu-wren Stipiturus mallee. BirdLife Australia, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  • Burbidge AH (2003) Birds and fire in the Mediterranean climate of south-west Western Australia. Fire in ecosystems of south-west Western Australia: impacts and management. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, pp 321–347

    Google Scholar 

  • Burbidge AH, Rolfe J, McNee S et al (2007) Monitoring population change in the cryptic and threatened western ground parrot in relation to fire. Emu - Austral Ornithol 107:79–88

    Google Scholar 

  • Burrows N, Chapman J (2018) Traditional and contemporary fire patterns in the Great Victoria Desert, Western Australia. Biodiversity and Conservation Science Division, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Perth

    Google Scholar 

  • Camp A, Oliver C, Hessburg P, Everett R (1997) Predicting late-successional fire refugia pre-dating European settlement in the Wenatchee Mountains. For Ecol Manage 95:63–77

    Google Scholar 

  • Chalfoun AD, Martin TE (2009) Habitat structure mediates predation risk for sedentary prey: experimental tests of alternative hypotheses. J Anim Ecol 78:497–503

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Clarke MF, Avitabile SC, Brown L et al (2010) Ageing mallee eucalypt vegetation after fire: insights for successional trajectories in semi-arid mallee ecosystems. Aust J Bot 58:363–372

    Google Scholar 

  • Collins SL, Nippert JB, Blair JM et al (2021) Fire frequency, state change and hysteresis in tallgrass prairie. Ecol Lett 24:636–647

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Connell J, Watson SJ, Taylor RS et al (2017) Testing the effects of a century of fires: requirements for post-fire succession predict the distribution of threatened bird species. Divers Distrib 23:1078–1089

    Google Scholar 

  • Connor SE, Schneider L, Trezise J et al (2018) Forgotten impacts of European land-use on riparian and savanna vegetation in northwest Australia. J Veg Sci 29:427–437

    Google Scholar 

  • Croft P, Hunter JT, Reid N (2016) Forgotten fauna: habitat attributes of long-unburnt open forests and woodlands dictate a rethink of fire management theory and practice. For Ecol Manage 366:166–174

    Google Scholar 

  • Davies HF, McCarthy MA, Rioli W et al (2018) An experimental test of whether pyrodiversity promotes mammal diversity in a northern Australian savanna. J Appl Ecol 55:2124–2134

    Google Scholar 

  • de Groot WJ, Flannigan MD, Cantin AS (2013) Climate change impacts on future boreal fire regimes. For Ecol Manage 294:35–44

    Google Scholar 

  • DELWP (2016) National recovery plan for the Mallee Emu-Wren Stipiturus mallee, Red-lored Whistler Pachycephala rufogularis and Western Whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis leucogaster. Australian Government Department of the Environment, Canberra, ACT

  • Dickman CR (1996) Impact of exotic generalist predators on the native fauna of Australia. Wildl Biol 2:185–195

    Google Scholar 

  • Doherty TS, van Etten EJB, Davis RA et al (2017) Ecosystem responses to fire: identifying cross-taxa contrasts and complementarities to inform management strategies. Ecosystems 20:872–884

    Google Scholar 

  • Driscoll DA, Armenteras D, Bennett AF et al (2021) How fire interacts with habitat loss and fragmentation. Biol Rev 96:976–998

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Duane A, Castellnou M, Brotons L (2021) Towards a comprehensive look at global drivers of novel extreme wildfire events. Clim Change 165:43

    Google Scholar 

  • Enright NJ, Fontaine JB, Bowman DMJS et al (2015) Interval squeeze: altered fire regimes and demographic responses interact to threaten woody species persistence as climate changes. Front Ecol Environ 13:265–272

    Google Scholar 

  • Everingham SE, Hemmings F, Moles AT (2019) Inverted invasions: native plants can frequently colonise urban and highly disturbed habitats. Austral Ecol 44:702–712

    Google Scholar 

  • Fisher JL, Loneragan WA, Dixon K et al (2009) Altered vegetation structure and composition linked to fire frequency and plant invasion in a biodiverse woodland. Biol Conserv 142:2270–2281

    Google Scholar 

  • Fleming PA, Anderson H, Prendergast AS et al (2014) Is the loss of Australian digging mammals contributing to a deterioration in ecosystem function? Mamm Rev 44:94–108

    Google Scholar 

  • Fox BJ (1982) Fire and mammalian secondary succession in an Australian coastal heath. Ecology 63:1332–1341

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeland WJ (1990) Large herbivorous mammals: exotic species in northern Australia. J Biogeogr 17:445–449

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeman J, Edwards AC, Russell-Smith J (2017) Fire-driven decline of endemic Allosyncarpia monsoon rainforests in northern Australia. Forests 8:481

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerber BD, Karpanty SM, Randrianantenaina J (2012) The impact of forest logging and fragmentation on carnivore species composition, density and occupancy in Madagascar’s rainforests. Oryx 46:414–422

    Google Scholar 

  • Giam X (2017) Global biodiversity loss from tropical deforestation. PNAS 114:5775–5777

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Gibbons P, Lindenmayer DB (2002) Tree hollows and wildlife conservation in Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibbons P, Lindenmayer DB, Barry SC, Tanton MT (2000) Hollow formation in eucalypts from temperate forests in southeastern Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 6:218–228

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson-Roy P, Moore G, Delpratt J (2010) Testing methods for reducing weed loads in preparation for reconstructing species-rich native grassland by direct seeding. Ecol Manage Restor 11:135–139

    Google Scholar 

  • Giljohann KM, Kelly LT, Connell J et al (2018) Assessing the sensitivity of biodiversity indices used to inform fire management. J Appl Ecol 55:461–471

    Google Scholar 

  • Gill AM (1975) Fire and the Australian flora: a review. Aust for 38:4–25

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon CE, Letnic M (2019) Evidence that the functional extinction of small mammals facilitates shrub encroachment following wildfire in arid Australia. J Arid Environ 164:60–68

    Google Scholar 

  • Gosper CR, Fox E, Burbidge AH et al (2019) Multi-century periods since fire in an intact woodland landscape favour bird species declining in an adjacent agricultural region. Biol Conserv 230:82–90

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenwood L, Bliege Bird R, Nimmo D (2021) Indigenous burning shapes the structure of visible and invisible fire mosaics. Landsc Ecol

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Halstead LM, Sutherland DR, Valentine LE et al (2020) Digging up the dirt: quantifying the effects on soil of a translocated ecosystem engineer. Austral Ecol 45:97–108

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrington GN, Murphy SA (2016) The distribution and conservation status of Carpentarian grasswrens (Amytornis dorotheae), with reference to prevailing fire patterns. Pac Conserv Biol 21:291–297

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrington GN, Venables BL, Armstrong C (2011) Breeding record for rufous-crowned emu-wren. Sunbird: J Qld Ornithol Soc 41:1–5

    Google Scholar 

  • Haslem A, Kelly LT, Nimmo DG et al (2011) Habitat or fuel? Implications of long-term, post-fire dynamics for the development of key resources for fauna and fire. J Appl Ecol 48:247–256

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayward MW, Ward-Fear G, L’Hotellier F et al (2016) Could biodiversity loss have increased Australia’s bushfire threat? Anim Conserv 19:490–497

    Google Scholar 

  • Hogendoorn K, Glatz RV, Leijs R (2021) Conservation management of the green carpenter bee Xylocopa aerata (Hymenoptera: Apidae) through provision of artificial nesting substrate. Austral Entomol 60:82–88

    Google Scholar 

  • Howard C, Flather CH, Stephens PA (2020) A global assessment of the drivers of threatened terrestrial species richness. Nat Commun 11:993

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Jacob J, Brown JS (2000) Microhabitat use, giving-up densities and temporal activity as short- and long-term anti-predator behaviors in common voles. Oikos 91:131–138

    Google Scholar 

  • Jakobsson S, Töpper JP, Evju M et al (2020) Setting reference levels and limits for good ecological condition in terrestrial ecosystems—insights from a case study based on the IBECA approach. Ecol Ind 116:106492

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssen A, Sabelis MW, Magalhães S et al (2007) Habitat structure affects intraguild predation. Ecology 88:2713–2719

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Johnstone JF, Hollingsworth TN, Chapin FS, Mack MC (2010) Changes in fire regime break the legacy lock on successional trajectories in Alaskan boreal forest. Glob Change Biol 16:1281–1295

    Google Scholar 

  • Jolly WM, Cochrane MA, Freeborn PH et al (2015) Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013. Nat Commun 6:7537

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jolly CJ, Dickman CR, Doherty TS et al (2022) Animal mortality during fire. Glob Change Biol GCB. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16044

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kearney SG, Watson JEM, Reside AE, et al (2020) A novel threat-abatement framework confirms an urgent need to limit habitat loss and improve management of invasive species and inappropriate fire regimes for Australia’s threatened species. Preprints 2020100372. https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202010.0372/v1

  • Keith DA, Rodríguez JP, Rodríguez-Clark KM et al (2013) Scientific foundations for an IUCN red list of ecosystems. PLoS ONE 8:e62111

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Keith DA, Auld TD, Barrett S et al (2021) Terrestrial ecological communities in Australia: initial assessment and management after the 2019–20 bushfires. Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW, Sydney

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly LT, Giljohann KM, Duane A et al (2020) Fire and biodiversity in the anthropocene. Science. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abb0355

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Kleinman JS, Goode JD, Fries AC, Hart JL (2019) Ecological consequences of compound disturbances in forest ecosystems: a systematic review. Ecosphere 10:e02962

    Google Scholar 

  • Kopf RK, Finlayson CM, Humphries P et al (2015) Anthropocene baselines: assessing change and managing biodiversity in human-dominated aquatic ecosystems. Bioscience 65:798–811

    Google Scholar 

  • Leahy L, Legge SM, Tuft K et al (2016) Amplified predation after fire suppresses rodent populations in Australia’s tropical savannas. Wildl Res 42:705–716

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehmann CER, Prior LD, Bowman DMJS (2009) Fire controls population structure in four dominant tree species in a tropical savanna. Oecologia 161:505–515

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB (2009) Old forest, new perspectives—insights from the Mountain Ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. For Ecol Manage 258:357–365

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB, Donnelly CF (1997) Decay and collapse of trees with hollows in eastern Australian forests: impacts on arboreal marsupials. Ecol Appl 7:625–641

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Hunter ML, Burton PJ, Gibbons P (2009) Effects of logging on fire regimes in moist forests. Conserv Lett 2:271–277

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Hobbs RJ, Likens GE et al (2011a) Newly discovered landscape traps produce regime shifts in wet forests. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:15887–15891

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Wood JT, McBurney L et al (2011b) How to make a common species rare: a case against conservation complacency. Biol Conserv 144:1663–1672

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Blanchard W, McBurney L et al (2012) Interacting factors driving a major loss of large trees with cavities in a forest ecosystem. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041864

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer D, Taylor C, Blanchard W (2021a) Empirical analyses of the factors influencing fire severity in southeastern Australia. Ecosphere 12:e03721

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindenmayer DB, Blanchard W, Blair D et al (2021b) The response of arboreal marsupials to long-term changes in forest disturbance. Anim Conserv 4:246–258

    Google Scholar 

  • Mallen-Cooper M, Nakagawa S, Eldridge DJ (2019) Global meta-analysis of soil-disturbing vertebrates reveals strong effects on ecosystem patterns and processes. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 28:661–679

    Google Scholar 

  • Manning AD, Lindenmayer DB, Cunningham RB (2007) A study of coarse woody debris volumes in two box-gum grassy woodland reserves in the Australian Capital Territory. Ecol Manage Restor 8:221–224

    Google Scholar 

  • Masters P (1996) The effects of fire-driven succession on reptiles in spinifex grasslnads at Uluru National Park, Northern Territory. Wildl Res 23:39–47

    Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy MA, Gill AM, Lindenmayer DB (1999) Fire regimes in mountain ash forest: evidence from forest age structure, extinction models and wildlife habitat. For Ecol Manage 124:193–203

    Google Scholar 

  • McGregor HW, Legge S, Jones ME, Johnson CN (2014) Landscape management of fire and grazing regimes alters the fine-scale habitat utilisation by feral cats. PLoS ONE 9:e109097

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • McGregor HW, Legge S, Jones ME, Johnson CN (2015) Feral cats are better killers in open habitats, revealed by animal-borne video. PLoS ONE 10:e0133915

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • McKinney ML, Lockwood JL (1999) Biotic homogenization: a few winners replacing many losers in the next mass extinction. Trends Ecol Evol 14:450–453

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Melville J, Schulte JA (2001) Correlates of active body temperatures and microhabitat occupation in nine species of central Australian agamid lizards. Austral Ecol 26:660–669

    Google Scholar 

  • Meredith CW, Gilmore AM, Isles AC (1984) The ground parrot (Pezoporus wallicus Kerr) in south-eastern Australia: a fire-adapted species? Aust J Ecol 9:367–380

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell WF, Boulton RL, Ireland L et al (2021) Using experimental trials to improve translocation protocols for a cryptic, endangered passerine. Pac Conserv Biol. https://doi.org/10.1071/PC20097

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moore D, Kearney MR, Paltridge R et al (2015) Is fire a threatening process for Liopholis kintorei, a nationally listed threatened skink? Wildl Res 42:207–216

    Google Scholar 

  • Murphy BP, Cochrane MA, Russell-Smith J (2015) Prescribed burning protects endangered tropical heathlands of the Arnhem Plateau, northern Australia. J Appl Ecol 52:980–991

    Google Scholar 

  • Murphy SA, Austin JJ, Murphy RK et al (2017a) Observations on breeding night parrots (Pezoporus occidentalis) in western Queensland. Emu - Austral Ornithol 117:107–113

    Google Scholar 

  • Murphy SA, Silcock J, Murphy R et al (2017b) Movements and habitat use of the night parrot Pezoporus occidentalis in south-western Queensland. Austral Ecol 42:858–868

    Google Scholar 

  • Nimmo DG, Kelly LT, Spence-Bailey LM et al (2012) Predicting the century-long post-fire responses of reptiles. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 21:1062–1073

    Google Scholar 

  • Nimmo DG, Kelly LT, Spence-Bailey LM et al (2013) Fire mosaics and reptile conservation in a fire-prone region. Conserv Biol 27:345–353

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Nimmo DG, Carthey AJR, Jolly CJ, Blumstein DT (2021) Welcome to the pyrocene: animal survival in the age of megafire. Glob Change Biol. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15834

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nitschke CR, Trouvé R, Lumsden LF et al (2020) Spatial and temporal dynamics of habitat availability and stability for a critically endangered arboreal marsupial: implications for conservation planning in a fire-prone landscape. Landsc Ecol 35:1553–1570

    Google Scholar 

  • Nolan RH, Bowman DMJS, Clarke H et al (2021) What do the Australian black summer fires signify for the global fire crisis? Fire 4:97

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Loughlin C, Courtney Jones S, Jenkins M, Gordon CE (2020) The effects of inter-fire interval on flora-fauna interactions in a sub-alpine landscape. For Ecol Manage 473:118316

    Google Scholar 

  • Parkes D, Newell G, Cheal D (2003) Assessing the quality of native vegetation: the ‘habitat hectares’ approach. Ecol Manage Restor 4:S29–S38

    Google Scholar 

  • Parnaby H, Lunney D, Shannon I, Fleming M (2010) Collapse rates of hollow-bearing trees following low intensity prescription burns in the Pilliga forests, New South Wales. Pac Conserv Biol 16:209–220

    Google Scholar 

  • Parsons BC, Gosper CR, Parsons BC, Gosper CR (2011) Contemporary fire regimes in a fragmented and an unfragmented landscape: implications for vegetation structure and persistence of the fire-sensitive malleefowl. Int J Wildland Fire 20:184–194

    Google Scholar 

  • Pauly D (1995) Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries. Trends Ecol Evol 10:430

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pavlova A, Beheregaray LB, Coleman R et al (2017) Severe consequences of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity of an endangered Australian freshwater fish: a call for assisted gene flow. Evol Appl 10:531–550

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Penman TD, Christie FJ, Andersen AN et al (2011) Prescribed burning: how can it work to conserve the things we value? Int J Wildland Fire 20:721–733

    Google Scholar 

  • Penman TD, Clarke H, Cirulis B et al (2020) Cost-effective prescribed burning solutions vary between landscapes in eastern Australia. Front for Glob Change. https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2020.00079

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Penton CE, Woolley L-A, Radford IJ, Murphy BP (2020) Blocked-off: Termitaria cause the overestimation of tree hollow availability by ground-based surveys in northern Australia. For Ecol Manage 458:117707

    Google Scholar 

  • Pereoglou F, MacGregor C, Banks SC et al (2011) Refuge site selection by the eastern chestnut mouse in recently burnt heath. Wildl Res 38:290–298

    Google Scholar 

  • Pereoglou F, MacGregor C, Banks SC et al (2016) Landscape, fire and habitat: which features of recently burned heathland influence site occupancy of an early successional specialist? Landsc Ecol 31:255–269

    Google Scholar 

  • Prato T, Paveglio T (2019) Evaluating sensitivity of the ranking of forest fuel treatments to manager’s risk attitudes and the importance of treatment objectives, Montana, USA. Int J for Res 2019:e6089024

    Google Scholar 

  • Prior LD, Murphy BP, Russell-Smith J (2009) Environmental and demographic correlates of tree recruitment and mortality in north Australian savannas. For Ecol Manage 257:66–74

    Google Scholar 

  • Prober SM, Yuen E, O’Connor MH, Schultz L (2016) Ngadju kala: Australian aboriginal fire knowledge in the Great Western Woodlands. Austral Ecol 41:716–732

    Google Scholar 

  • Radford IJ, Corey B, Carnes K et al (2021) Landscape-scale effects of fire, cats, and feral livestock on threatened savanna mammals: unburnt habitat matters more than pyrodiversity. Front Ecol Evol

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robinson NM, Leonard SWJ, Ritchie EG et al (2013) Refuges for fauna in fire-prone landscapes: their ecological function and importance. J Appl Ecol 50:1321–1329

    Google Scholar 

  • Richardson LE, Graham NAJ, Pratchett MS et al (2018) Mass coral bleaching causes biotic homogenization of reef fish assemblages. Glob Change Biol 24:3117–3129

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross CE, McIntyre S, Barton PS et al (2020) A reintroduced ecosystem engineer provides a germination niche for native plant species. Biodivers Conserv 29:817–837

    Google Scholar 

  • Rossiter NA, Setterfield SA, Douglas MM, Hutley LB (2003) Testing the grass-fire cycle: alien grass invasion in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Divers Distrib 9:169–176

    Google Scholar 

  • Rossiter-Rachor NA, Setterfield SA, Hutley LB et al (2017) Invasive Andropogon gayanus (gamba grass) alters litter decomposition and nitrogen fluxes in an Australian tropical savanna. Sci Rep 7:11705

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Ruaro R, Gubiani ÉA, Thomaz SM, Mormul RP (2021) Nonnative invasive species are overlooked in biological integrity assessments. Biol Invasions 23:83–94

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell-Smith J, Yates CP (2007) Australian savanna fire regimes: context, scales, patchiness. Fire Ecol 3:48–63

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell-Smith J, Edwards AC, Price OF (2012) Simplifying the savanna: the trajectory of fire-sensitive vegetation mosaics in northern Australia. J Biogeogr 39:1303–1317

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell-Smith J, Lindenmayer D, Kubiszewski I et al (2015) Moving beyond evidence-free environmental policy. Front Ecol Environ 13:441–448

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryan CM, Hobbs RJ, Valentine LE (2020) Bioturbation by a reintroduced digging mammal reduces fuel loads in an urban reserve. Ecol Appl 30:e02018

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sass S, Swan G, Marshall B et al (2011) Disjunct populations of spinifex-obligate reptiles revealed in a newly described vegetation community near Broken Hill, far-western New South Wales. Aust Zool 35:781–787

    Google Scholar 

  • Sato CF, Lindenmayer DB (2018) Meeting the global ecosystem collapse challenge. Conserv Lett 11:e12348

    Google Scholar 

  • Scheele BC, Legge S, Armstrong DP et al (2018) How to improve threatened species management: an Australian perspective. J Environ Manage 223:668–675

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Seidl R, Thom D, Kautz M et al (2017) Forest disturbances under climate change. Nat Clim Change 7:395

    Google Scholar 

  • Setterfield SA, Rossiter-Rachor NA, Hutley LB et al (2010) Turning up the heat: the impacts of Andropogon gayanus (gamba grass) invasion on fire behaviour in northern Australian savannas. Divers Distrib 16:854–861

    Google Scholar 

  • Sims RJ, Lyons M, Keith DA (2019) Limited evidence of compositional convergence of restored vegetation with reference states after 20 years of livestock exclusion. Austral Ecol 44:734–746

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith GT (1985) Fire effects on populations of the noisy scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus), western bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris) and western whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis). Fire ecology and management in Western Australian ecosystems. Western Australian Institute of Technology, Perth, pp 95–102

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith GT (1991) Ecology of the western whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis in Western Australia. Emu 91:145–157

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith GT (1996) Habitat use and management for the noisy scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus. Bird Conserv Int 6:33–48

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith AP, Lindenmayer DB (1992) Forest succession and habitat management for Leadbeater’s possum in the State of Victoria, Australia. For Ecol Manage 49:311–332

    Google Scholar 

  • Soga M, Gaston KJ (2018) Shifting baseline syndrome: causes, consequences, and implications. Front Ecol Environ 16:222–230

    Google Scholar 

  • Stoddard JL, Larsen DP, Hawkins CP et al (2006) Setting expectations for the ecological condition of streams: the concept of reference condition. Ecol Appl 16:1267–1276

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stoetzel HJ, Leseberg NP, Murphy SA et al (2020) Modelling the habitat of the endangered Carpentarian Grasswren (Amytornis dorotheae): the importance of spatio-temporal habitat availability in a fire prone landscape. Glob Ecol Conserv 24:e01341

    Google Scholar 

  • Stokes VL, Pech RP, Banks PB, Arthur AD (2004) Foraging behaviour and habitat use by Antechinus flavipes and Sminthopsis murina (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae) in response to predation risk in eucalypt woodland. Biol Conserv 117:331–342

    Google Scholar 

  • Swanson ME, Franklin JF, Beschta RL et al (2011) The forgotten stage of forest succession: early-successional ecosystems on forest sites. Front Ecol Environ 9:117–125

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor C, Cadenhead N, Lindenmayer DB, Wintle BA (2017) Improving the design of a conservation reserve for a critically endangered species. PLoS ONE 12:e0169629

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Thomas JA, Morris MG (1994) Patterns, mechanisms and rates of extinction among invertebrates in the United Kingdom. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 344:47–54

    Google Scholar 

  • Todd CR, Lindenmayer DB, Stamation K et al (2016) Assessing reserve effectiveness: application to a threatened species in a dynamic fire prone forest landscape. Ecol Model 338:90–100

    Google Scholar 

  • Urquiza-Haas T, Peres CA, Dolman PM (2011) Large vertebrate responses to forest cover and hunting pressure in communal landholdings and protected areas of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Anim Conserv 14:271–282

    Google Scholar 

  • van der Hoek Y, Gaona GV, Martin K (2017) The diversity, distribution and conservation status of the tree-cavity-nesting birds of the world. Divers Distrib 23:1120–1131

  • van Oldenborgh GJ, Krikken F, Lewis S et al (2020) Attribution of the Australian bushfire risk to anthropogenic climate change. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci Discuss. https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2020-69

  • Verdon SJ, Mitchell WF, Clarke MF et al (2021) Can flexible timing of harvest for translocation reduce the impact on fluctuating source populations? Wildl Res 48:458–469

    Google Scholar 

  • von Takach Dukai B, Lindenmayer DB, Banks SC (2018) Environmental influences on growth and reproductive maturation of a keystone forest tree: implications for obligate seeder susceptibility to frequent fire. For Ecol Manage 411:108–119

    Google Scholar 

  • von Takach B, Scheele BC, Moore H et al (2020) Patterns of niche contraction identify vital refuge areas for declining mammals. Divers Distrib 26:1467–1482

    Google Scholar 

  • Ward M, Carwardine J, Yong CJ et al (2021) A national-scale dataset for threats impacting Australia’s imperiled flora and fauna. Ecol Evol 11:11749–11761

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Webster PJ, Holland GJ, Curry JA, Chang H-R (2005) Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment. Science 309:1844–1846

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Westerling AL, Turner MG, Smithwick EAH et al (2011) Continued warming could transform Greater Yellowstone fire regimes by mid-21st century. PNAS 108:13165–13170

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Whitehead PJ, Bowman DMJS, Preece N et al (2003) Customary use of fire by indigenous peoples in northern Australia: its contemporary role in savanna management. Int J Wildland Fire 12:415–425

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams RJ, Cook GD, Gill AM, Moore PHR (1999) Fire regime, fire intensity and tree survival in a tropical savanna in northern Australia. Aust J Ecol 24:50–59

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams NM, Crone EE, Roulston TH et al (2010) Ecological and life-history traits predict bee species responses to environmental disturbances. Biol Conserv 143:2280–2291

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams AP, Abatzoglou JT, Gershunov A et al (2019) Observed impacts of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire in California. Earth’s Future 7:892–910

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson BA, Kuehs J, Valentine LE et al (2014) Guidelines for ecological burning regimes in Mediterranean ecosystems: a case study in Banksia woodlands in Western Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 20:57–74

    Google Scholar 

  • Wintle BA, Legge S, Woinarski JCZ (2020) After the megafires: what next for Australian wildlife? Trends Ecol Evol 35:753–757

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Woinarski JCZ, Legge S (2013) The impacts of fire on birds in Australia’s tropical savannas. Emu - Austral Ornithol 113:319–352

    Google Scholar 

  • Woinarski JCZ, Burbidge AA, Harrison PL (2015) Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112:4531–4540

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Woolley L-A, Murphy BP, Radford IJ et al (2018) Cyclones, fire, and termites: the drivers of tree hollow abundance in northern Australia’s mesic tropical savanna. For Ecol Manage 419–420:146–159

    Google Scholar 

  • Wormington K, Lamb D (1999) Tree hollow development in wet and dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest in south-east Queensland, Australia. Aust for 62:336–345

    Google Scholar 

  • Yen JDL, Dorrough J, Oliver I et al (2019) Modeling biodiversity benchmarks in variable environments. Ecol Appl 29:e01970

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Young JA, Clements CD (2009) Cheatgrass: fire and forage on the range. University of Nevada Press, Reno

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeeman BJ, McDonnell MJ, Kendal D, Morgan JW (2017) Biotic homogenization in an increasingly urbanized temperate grassland ecosystem. J Veg Sci 28:550–561

    Google Scholar 

  • Zylstra PJ (2018) Flammability dynamics in the Australian Alps. Austral Ecol 43:578–591

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Australia, and pay our respects to their Elders both past and present. Thanks to Alana de Laive for her assistance with graphic design, and to Keller Kopf and Stephen van Leeuwen for helpful discussion. Brenton von Takach acknowledges the support of the Forrest Research Foundation. Tim Doherty was supported by the Australian Research Council (DE200100157).

Funding

Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and its Member Institutions. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

BvT, SCB and CJJ conceived the manuscript. BvT led the writing with all authors contributing to the preparation, framing and revision of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brenton von Takach.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Ethical approval

Not applicable.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

von Takach, B., Jolly, C.J., Dixon, K.M. et al. Long-unburnt habitat is critical for the conservation of threatened vertebrates across Australia. Landsc Ecol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-022-01427-7

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-022-01427-7

Keywords

  • Population decline
  • Disturbance
  • Fire regime
  • Habitat structure
  • Novel ecosystems
  • Threatened species