How to prioritize species recovery after a megafire

Michelle Ward, Josie Carwardine, James E.M. Watson, Anna Pintor, Stephanie Stuart, Hugh P. Possingham, Jonathan R. Rhodes, Alexander R. Carey, Nancy Auerbach, April Reside, Chuan Ji Yong, Ayesha I.T. Tulloch

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Due to climate change, megafires are increasingly common and have sudden, extensive impacts on many species over vast areas, leaving decision makers uncertain about how best to prioritize recovery. We devised a decision-support framework to prioritize conservation actions to improve species outcomes immediately after a megafire. Complementary locations are selected to extend recovery actions across all fire-affected species’ habitats. We applied our method to areas burned in the 2019−2020 Australian megafires and assessed its conservation advantages by comparing our results with outcomes of a site-richness approach (i.e., identifying areas that cost-effectively recover the most species in any one location). We found that 290 threatened species were likely severely affected and will require immediate conservation action to prevent population declines and possible extirpation. We identified 179 subregions, mostly in southeastern Australia, that are key locations to extend actions that benefit multiple species. Cost savings were over AU$300 million to reduce 95% of threats across all species. Our complementarity-based prioritization also spread postfire management actions across a wider proportion of the study area compared with the site-richness method (43% vs. 37% of the landscape managed, respectively) and put more of each species’ range under management (average 90% vs. 79% of every species’ habitat managed). In addition to wildfire response, our framework can be used to prioritize conservation actions that will best mitigate threats affecting species following other extreme environmental events (e.g., floods and drought).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13936
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


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