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Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 113(4)

The impacts of fire on birds in Australia’s tropical savannas

J. C. Z. Woinarski A D E and S. Legge A B C

A North Australian Biodiversity Hub, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT 0909, Australia.
B Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, PMB 925 Derby, WA 6728, Australia.
C Research School of Biology, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.
D Present address: PO Box 148, Christmas Island, 6798, Australia.
E Corresponding author. Email: john.woinarski@cdu.edu.au

Emu 113(4) 319-352 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU12109
Submitted: 22 November 2012  Accepted: 11 June 2013   Published: 13 September 2013


 
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Abstract

The ecology of Australia’s tropical savannas is shaped by the near-pervasive influence of fire. Constituting ~20% of Australia’s land area, tropical savannas contribute >75% of the area burnt in Australia each year. Across most of Australia’s tropical savannas, components of biodiversity are declining, including many species of birds. This review seeks to assess whether that decline is linked to current fire regimes. However, relevant studies are few, short-term and opportunistic, and indicate rather than demonstrate the effects of fire. There is no set of agreed paradigms for contextualising the relationship between birds and fire regimes in this region or for any management consequences. We conclude that the current fire regime is suboptimal for many species of birds, particularly for granivores, frugivores, hollow-dependent species and those that nest on or near the ground. For conservation reserves, we recommend that fire management protocols include the explicit targets that: (1) at least 25% of the savanna landscape is at least 3 years unburnt; (2) at least 5% is at least 10 years unburnt; (3) fire-sensitive non-savanna vegetation types are increasing or stable and (4) populations of selected hollow-nesting, ground-nesting, frugivorous and granivorous birds are increasing or stable. We also identify key knowledge gaps that currently inhibit conservation management.

Additional keywords: conservation, conservation management, frugivore, granivore, ground-nesting, hollow-nesting, management, pastoralism, rainforest, threatened species.


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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Recher, H. F., and Majer, J. (1997). Vertebrates of eucalypt formations. In ‘Eucalypt Ecology: Individuals to Ecosystems’. (Eds J. E. Williams and J. C. Z. Woinarski.) pp. 303–341. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.)

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Fisher, A., and Milne, D. (1999a). Distribution patterns of vertebrates in relation to an extensive rainfall gradient and soil variation in the tropical savannas of the Northern Territory, Australia. Journal of Tropical Ecology 15, 381–398.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Brock, C., Fisher, A., Milne, D., and Oliver, B. (1999b). Response of birds and reptiles to fire regimes on pastoral land in the Victoria River District, Northern Territory. Rangeland Journal 21, 24–38.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Brock, C., Armstrong, M., Hempel, C., Cheal, D., and Brennan, K. (2000a). Bird distribution in riparian vegetation of an Australian tropical savanna: a broad-scale survey and analysis of a distributional data base. Journal of Biogeography 27, 843–868.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Franklin, D., and Connors, G. (2000b). Thinking honeyeater: nectar maps for the Northern Territory, Australia, showing spatial and temporal variation in nectar availability. Pacific Conservation Biology 6, 61–80.

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Milne, D. J., and Wanganeen, G. (2001). Changes in mammal populations in relatively intact landscapes of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology 26, 360–370.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Risler, J., and Kean, L. (2004a). The response of vegetation and vertebrate fauna to 23 years of fire exclusion in a tropical Eucalyptus open forest, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology 29, 156–176.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Armstrong, M., Price, O., McCartney, J., Griffiths, T., and Fisher, A. (2004b). The terrestrial vertebrate fauna of Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory: monitoring over a 6-year period and response to fire history. Wildlife Research 31, 587–596.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Williams, R. J., Price, O., and Rankmore, B. (2005). Landscapes without boundaries: wildlife and their environments in northern Australia. Wildlife Research 32, 377–388.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Hempel, C., Cowie, I., Brennan, K., Kerrigan, R., Leach, G., and Russell-Smith, J. (2006). Distributional patterns of plant species endemic to the Northern Territory, Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 54, 627–640.
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Woinarski, J., Mackey, B., Nix, H., and Traill, B. (2007a). ‘The Nature of Northern Australia: Its Natural Values, Ecological Processes and Future Prospects.’ (ANU Press: Canberra.)

Woinarski, J., Pavey, C., Kerrigan, R., Cowie, I., and Ward, S. (2007b). ‘Lost From Our Landscape: Threatened Species of the Northern Territory.’ (NT Government Printer: Darwin.)

Woinarski, J., Hokkanen, R., Milne, D., and Armstrong, M. (2008). ‘Long-term Vertebrate Fauna Monitoring. Rio Tinto Alcan Gove Rehabilitation Monitoring.’ (NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment and The Arts: Darwin.)

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Russell-Smith, J., Andersen, A., and Brennan, K. (2009a). Fire management and biodiversity of the western Arnhem Land Plateau. In ‘Culture, Ecology and Economy of Fire Management in Northern Australia: Rekindling the Wurrk Tradition’. (Eds J. Russell-Smith, P. J. Whitehead and P. Cooke.) pp. 201–228. (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Rankmore, B., Hill, B., Griffiths, A. D., Stewart, A., and Grace, B. (2009b). Fauna assemblages in regrowth vegetation in tropical open forests of the Northern Territory, Australia. Wildlife Research 36, 675–690.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Armstrong, M., Brennan, K., Fisher, A., Griffiths, A. D., Hill, B., Milne, D. J., Palmer, C., Ward, S., Watson, M., Winderlich, S., and Young, S. (2010). Monitoring indicates rapid and severe decline of native small mammals in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. Wildlife Research 37, 116–126.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Legge, S., Fitzsimons, J. A., Traill, B. J., Burbidge, A. A., Fisher, A., Firth, R. S. C., Gordon, I. J., Griffiths, A. D., Johnson, C. N., McKenzie, N. L., Palmer, C., Radford, I., Rankmore, B., Ritchie, E. G., Ward, S., and Ziembicki, M. (2011). The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause and response. Conservation Letters 4, 192–201.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Fisher, A., Armstrong, M., Brennan, K., Griffiths, A. D., Hill, B., Low Choy, J., Milne, D., Stewart, A., Young, S., Ward, S., Winderlich, S., and Ziembicki, M. (2012). Monitoring indicates greater resilience for birds than for mammals in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. Wildlife Research 39, 397–407.
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Woinarski, J. C. Z., Green, J., Fisher, A., Ensbey, M., and Mackey, B. (2013). The effectiveness of conservation reserves: land tenure impacts upon biodiversity across extensive natural landscapes in the tropical savannas of the Northern Territory, Australia. Land 2, 20–36.
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Yates, C. P., Edwards, A. C., and Russell-Smith, J. (2008). Big fires and their ecological impacts in Australian savannas: size and frequency matters. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17, 768–781.
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Yibarbuk, D., Whitehead, P. J., Russell-Smith, J., Jackson, D., Godjuwa, C., Fisher, A., Cooke, P., Choquenot, D., and Bowman, D. M. J. S. (2001). Fire ecology and Aboriginal land management in central Arnhem Land, northern Australia: a tradition of ecosystem management. Journal of Biogeography 28, 325–343.
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Ziembicki, M. (2009). Ecology and movements of the Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis in a dynamic landscape. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Adelaide.


   
 
    
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