Beds are burning
: small mammal responses to fire in tropical savannas of Northern Australia

  • Anthony Griffiths

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The management of fire to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem integrity is an ongoing challenge throughout the world. The response of plants and animals to fire is complex due to interactions among factors that include the characteristics of the fire (i.e. intensity and extent), the antecedent fire regime, the habitat, the climatic conditions, the biology of the affected organisms and their interactions. There is a clear need to understand multiple ecological processes if fire is to be managed as an effective tool for conserving biodiversity. 

    Fire is often regarded as a threatening process for small mammal species in Australia. The majority of research in Australia and overseas over the last twenty years on the response of small mammals to fire has relied on raw abundance indices and has often lacked statistically rigorous design and proper incorporation of uncertainty that is needed for strong inference. Based on a meta-analysis of published data, the overall effect size (per cent change in abundance) between burnt and unburnt sites was relatively small, but was significantly greater for small mammal species dependent on fire-sensitive habitats (e.g. rainforests) and with body mass between 101-1000 g. 

    I examine the response of demographic attributes to experimental fires for a suite of small mammal species using an extensive capture-mark-recapture dataset collected during a landscape-scale fire experiment. Growth rate and maximum body size were not influenced by different fire regimes. However, survival and recruitment were reduced for a number of species when the fire intensity was high. Spatially explicit population viability analysis models for four taxa demonstrated that frequency of fires rather than extent presents the greatest risk to population persistence and indicates that prevailing fire management regimes may be unfavourable for some species. 

    Together, these findings suggest that fire has an important role in the management and conservation of small mammal species.
    Date of AwardJun 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Garnett (Supervisor) & Barry Brook (Supervisor)

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