Oral presentation- Open Session 12th International Mammalogical Congress

Investigating post-fire recovery in an Australian native rodent: Managing fire for conservation in northern Australia (#347)

Robyn Shaw 1 2 , Katherine Tuft 3 , Alex James 2 , Rod Peakall 1 , Sam Banks 4
  1. Ecology and Evolution, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  2. Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Derby, Western Australia, Australia
  3. Arid Recovery, Roxby Downs, South Australia, Australia
  4. Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Since European arrival, native mammals in Australia have suffered the worst declines of any country in the world. In particular, recent and drastic declines have been seen across northern Australia, a region long considered a haven for wildlife. This is partly due to frequent, intense wildfires occurring later in the dry-season. Therefore, conservation-based fire management focuses on implementing low-intensity burns early in the dry-season, creating a mosaic of burnt and unburnt habitat to prevent late-season wildfires. To design effective fire management for conservation, we need to understand how populations recover after fire. We assessed the immediate response to fire of a vulnerable native rodent, the pale field-rat (Rattus tunneyi) and investigated how populations recover after fires of varying size. We carried out fire experiments in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, using ‘patchy’ and ‘thorough’ burns to represent early and late dry-season fires. We collected mark-recapture data, genotypes and vegetation measurements before fire and during the post-fire recovery phase over a one-year period. We found that vegetative cover and pale field-rat captures decreased after fire. This was much more dramatic after ‘thorough’ burns than after ‘patchy’ burns. One year after fire, both vegetation and pale field-rat populations recovered quickly. However, the mechanisms driving recovery differed between fire types, with recovery driven by in situ survival after ‘patchy’ fires, compared to recolonisation after ‘thorough’ fires. Understanding this process is vital for designing management strategies that promote recovery for vulnerable native rodents, as well as other mammals declining across similar habitats.