Animal mortality during fire

Chris J. Jolly, Chris R. Dickman, Tim S. Doherty, Lily M. van Eeden, William L. Geary, Sarah M. Legge, John C.Z. Woinarski, Dale G. Nimmo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Earth's rapidly warming climate is propelling us towards an increasingly fire-prone future. Currently, knowledge of the extent and characteristics of animal mortality rates during fire remains rudimentary, hindering our ability to predict how animal populations may be impacted in the future. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a global systematic review of the direct effects of fire on animal mortality rates, based on studies that unequivocally determined the fate of animals during fire. From 31 studies spanning 1984–2020, we extracted data on the direct impacts of fire on the mortality of 31 species from 23 families. From these studies, there were 43 instances where direct effects were measured by reporting animal survival from pre- to post-fire. Most studies were conducted in North America (52%) and Oceania (42%), focused largely on mammals (53%) and reptiles (30%), and reported mostly on animal survival in planned (82%) and/or low severity (70%) fires. We found no studies from Asia, Europe or South America. Although there were insufficient data to conduct a formal meta-analysis, we tested the effect of fire type, fire severity, fire regime, animal body mass, ecological attributes and class on survival. Only fire severity affected animal mortality, with a higher proportion of animals being killed by high than low severity fires. Recent catastrophic fires across the globe have drawn attention to the plight of animals exposed to wildfire. Yet, our systematic review suggests that a relatively low proportion of animals (mean predicted mortality [95% CI] = 3% [1%–9%]) are killed during fire. However, our review also underscores how little we currently know about the direct effects of fire on animal mortality, and highlights the critical need to understand the effects of high severity fire on animal populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2053-2065
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Early online dateJan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


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