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.