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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 24(5)

Small mammals decline with increasing fire extent in northern Australia: evidence from long-term monitoring in Kakadu National Park

Michael J. Lawes A F, Brett P. Murphy A B, Alaric Fisher C D, John C. Z. Woinarski A C D, Andrew C. Edwards A E and Jeremy Russell-Smith A E

A Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.
B Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia.
C NERP North Australia Hub, Charles Darwin University, NT 0909, Australia.
D Flora and Fauna Division, NT Department of Land Resource Management, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.
E Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin NT 0909, Australia.
F Corresponding author. Email: michael.lawes@cdu.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 24(5) 712-722 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF14163
Submitted: 12 September 2014  Accepted: 7 February 2015   Published: 21 May 2015

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Small mammal (<2 kg) numbers have declined dramatically in northern Australia in recent decades. Fire regimes, characterised by frequent, extensive, late-season wildfires, are implicated in this decline. Here, we compare the effect of fire extent, in conjunction with fire frequency, season and spatial heterogeneity (patchiness) of the burnt area, on mammal declines in Kakadu National Park over a recent decadal period. Fire extent – an index incorporating fire size and fire frequency – was the best predictor of mammal declines, and was superior to the proportion of the surrounding area burnt and fire patchiness. Point-based fire frequency, a commonly used index for characterising fire effects, was a weak predictor of declines. Small-scale burns affected small mammals least of all. Crucially, the most important aspects of fire regimes that are associated with declines are spatial ones; extensive fires (at scales larger than the home ranges of small mammals) are the most detrimental, indicating that small mammals may not easily escape the effects of large and less patchy fires. Notwithstanding considerable management effort, the current fire regime in this large conservation reserve is detrimental to the native mammal fauna, and more targeted management is required to reduce fire size.

Additional keywords: Aboriginal burning, fire frequency, fire regime, habitat simplification, patch mosaic burning, predation, tropical savanna.


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