Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Short-term response of threatened small macropods and their predators to prescribed burns in subtropical Australia.

Abstract

Fire is an important ecological process that shapes vegetation structure and habitat for faunal assemblages globally. Prescribed burns are increasingly being used in conservation and management to restore fire regimes in fire-suppressed vegetation communities. Small threatened macropods require structurally complex habitat that allows them to evade detection by predators. Given that fire can alter vegetation structure, it can be viewed as a strong ecological force in shifting the dynamics between predator and prey species. Previous studies in temperate Australia have shown that prescribed burns in the presence of European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral Cat (Felis catus) can have negative impacts on small macropods and medium-sized mammals. Post-fire response of threatened small macropods and their predators has not been experimentally examined in subtropical Australia despite this region providing refugia for the Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) and Red-legged Pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica). We conducted a before-after-control-impact fire experiment at two paired sites after low-moderate intensity burns typical of cool season prescribed burns. We used camera trapping to investigate changes in activity of threatened small macropods and their predators. We also recorded vegetation change. Despite large reductions in ground and shrub cover, activity of small macropods and the Dingo (Canis dingo) did not change in response to fires. Therefore, the threat of dingo predation appears to have remained unchanged following the fires. Although feral cats and foxes were present, they showed negligible activity across our sites. Our study suggests that small-scale patchy ecological burns may not lead to increased predation of small macropods in our landscape. We attribute this to sufficient post-fire refugia and very low densities of foxes.