Effects of time since fire on birds: How informative are generalized fire response curves for conservation management?

Simon Watson, R. S. Taylor, D. G. Nimmo, Luke T. Kelly, Angie Haslem, Michael F. Clarke, Andrew F. Bennett

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Fire is both a widespread natural disturbance that affects the distribution of species and a tool that can be used to manage habitats for species. Knowledge of temporal changes in the occurrence of species after fire is essential for conservation management in fire-prone environments. Two key issues are: whether postfire responses of species are idiosyncratic or if multiple species show a limited number of similar responses; and whether such responses to time since fire can predict the occurrence of species across broad spatial scales. We examined the response of bird species to time since fire in semiarid shrubland in southeastern Australia using data from surveys at 499 sites representing a 100-year chronosequence. We used nonlinear regression to model the probability of occurrence of 30 species with time since fire in two vegetation types, and compared species' responses with generalized response shapes from the literature. The occurrence of 16 species was significantly influenced by time since fire: they displayed six main responses consistent with generalized response shapes. Of these 16 species, 15 occurred more frequently in mid- or later-successional vegetation (> 20 years since fire), and only one species occurred more often in early succession (< 5 years since fire). The models had reasonable predictive ability for eight species, some predictive ability for seven species, and were little better than random for one species. Bird species displayed a limited range of responses to time since fire; thus a small set of fire ages should allow the provision of habitat for most species. Postfire successional changes extend for decades and management of the age class distribution of vegetation will need to reflect this timescale. Response curves revealed important seral stages for species and highlighted the importance of mid- to late-successional vegetation (> 20 years). Although time since fire clearly influences the distribution of numerous bird species, predictive models of the spatial distribution of species in fire-prone landscapes need to incorporate other factors in addition to time since fire.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-696
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


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