The disproportionate importance of long-unburned forests and woodlands for reptiles

Kelly M. Dixon*, Geoffrey J. Cary, Graeme L. Worboys, Philip Gibbons

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Our understanding of the impacts of time since fire on reptiles remains limited, partly because there are relatively few locations where long-term, spatially explicit fire histories are available. Such information is important given the large proportion of some landscapes that are managed with frequent prescribed fire to meet fuel management objectives. We conducted a space-for-time study across a landscape in southeastern Australia where the known fire history spanned 6 months to at least 96 years. Four methods were used to survey reptiles in 81 forest and woodland sites to investigate how time since fire (TSF), habitat, and environmental variables affect reptile richness, abundance, and composition. We used generalized linear models, generalized linear mixed-effects models, PERMANOVA, and SIMPER to identify relationships between the reptile assemblage (richness, abundance, and composition, respectively) and TSF, habitat, and environmental variables. All three reptile metrics were associated with TSF. Reptile richness and abundance were significantly higher in sites >96 years postfire than younger fire ages (0.5–12 years). Reptile composition at long-unburned sites was dissimilar to sites burned more recently but was similar between sites burned 0.5–2 and 6–12 years prior to sampling. Synthesis and applications. Long-unburned forests and woodlands were disproportionately more important for reptile richness and abundance than areas burned 6 months to 12 years prior to sampling. This is important given that long-unburned areas represent <8% of our study area. Our results therefore suggest that reptiles would benefit from protecting remaining long-unburned areas from fire and transitioning a greater proportion of the study area to long-unburned. However, some compositional differences between the long-unburned sites and sites 0.5–12 years postfire indicate that maintaining a diversity in fire ages is important for conserving reptile diversity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)10952-10963
    Number of pages12
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Volume8
    Issue number22
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

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