What factors influence rapid post-fire site re-occupancy? A case study of the endangered Eastern Bristlebird in eastern Australia.
We quantified the post-fire recovery of the endangered Eastern Bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus) at Booderee National Park, south-eastern Australia. Occurrence was recorded on 110 sites a year before, and for 3 years after a major unplanned fire in 2003. Although the Eastern Bristlebird is thought to be sensitive to wildfire, data indicated that the species either persisted continuously on burned sites or returned to previously occupied sites within 2 years. Post-fire site occupancy was associated with several factors: (1) pre-fire site occupancy; (2) vegetation type; (3) spatial heterogeneity in fire and the amount of unburned vegetation surrounding a site; and (4) site-level vegetation structure (e.g. diversity of understorey and midstorey plants). The most likely mechanism underpinning rapid re-occupancy was movement by resident birds to unburned parts elsewhere within their territories. The addition of intensive feral predator baiting within the present study suggests that predation may have a more important effect on populations after unplanned fires than formerly recognised. Our results have significant implications for fire management in areas where the Eastern Bristlebird occurs. Care should be taken with back-burning during unplanned fires and the spatial and temporal arrangement of prescribed fires to ensure unburned vegetation remains as refugia to facilitate bird persistence.