Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Long-term recovery from fire by a population of honey possums (Tarsipes rostratus) in the extreme south-west of Western Australia

S. D. Bradshaw A B and F. J. Bradshaw A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, WA 6009, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: don.bradshaw@uwa.edu.au

Australian Journal of Zoology 65(1) 1-11 https://doi.org/10.1071/ZO16068
Submitted: 30 September 2016  Accepted: 27 March 2017   Published: 19 April 2017

Abstract

The impact of two fires, six years apart, on the long-term recovery of a population of honey possums (Tarsipes rostratus) in the extreme south-west of Western Australia was documented over a 23-year period. Recovery was relatively rapid after the first fire, with catch rates reaching 78% of precatch levels within six years, but was much slower following the second fire in April 1999. Regression analysis estimates that full recovery to prefire catch rates and densities would take 25.6 years. The spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi (dieback) throughout the study area has severely impacted Banksia ilicifolia trees, which are the honey possums’ primary food source, and the impact has been greater in the burnt than unburnt areas. Analysis of catch-per-unit-effort and density of individual honey possums over the whole 29-year period of the study shows that numbers have not declined in the long-unburnt southern area of the study site, despite the spread of dieback and loss of banksia trees. The data are discussed in relation to the impact of fire on other vertebrate species that have specific habitat requirements. Given predictions of increasing fire frequencies due to climate change and an increased utilisation of prescribed burning to protect human life and property, it is imperative that management of areas harbouring honey possums be protected from too-frequent fire if this iconic species is to persist.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, dieback, Phytophthora cinnamomi.


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