Mallee fire and biodiversity

The Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Project was a large, four-year collaborative project which commenced in March 2006. It was jointly led by Associate Professor Mike Clarke (La Trobe University) and Professor Andrew Bennett (Deakin University).

The project aimed to identify the properties of habitat mosaics produced by fire that enhance the persistence and status of a broad range of taxonomic groups (birds, mammals, reptiles, key invertebrates and plants) in eucalypt-dominated mallee habitats across three states (VIC, SA, NSW). Seven PhD students researched the respective taxonomic groups.

Project aims

To identify the properties of habitat mosaics produced by fire that enhance the persistence and status of a broad range of taxonomic groups (birds, mammals, reptiles, key invertebrates and plants) in eucalypt-dominated mallee habitats.

Key Research Questions

What are the properties of fire-induced vegetation mosaics that enhance the status of different taxonomic groups (birds, mammals, reptiles, selected invertebrates and plants) in eucalypt mallee vegetation?

How do these favoured properties vary between different taxonomic groups, and between different species or guilds within groups?

What are the site-level attributes that influence the status (presence/absence, abundance) of different species and taxonomic assemblages?

Are fire mosaics and sites that are suitable for plant species identified as 'key fire-response species' also suitable for faunal groups (i.e. are the fire-response plants reliable surrogates for biodiversity planning?)

Study Area

The study was carried out in the Murray Mallee region of south-eastern Australia, encompassing parts of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia (see map). Study locations included:

  • Victoria: Murray Sunset National Park, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
  • SA: Billiatt Conservation Park, Gluepot Reserve, Danggali Conservation Park
  • NSW: Tarawi Nature Reserve, Scotia Sanctuary, Mallee Cliffs National Park, Petro Station and Lethero Station

Selection of study mosaics

Figure 2 Characteristics of the 28 mosaics selected for the study.Twenty-eight landscape mosaics were selected for study; each a circular area of 2 km radius (12.56 km^2). These mosaics were selected based on three major criteria.

Geographic position. Mosaics were selected in the northern part of the study region (Gluepot, Tarawi, Scotia, Danggali) and in the south (Murray-Sunset, Hattah, Billiatt, Mallee Cliffs).

Percentage of long unburnt mallee. Mosaics were chosen to represent a gradient in the proportion of long unburnt mallee, from 100% down to 0%. Long-unburnt mallee was subjectively defined as mallee not having been burned for >40 years (Figure 2).

Number of post-fire age classes present. Mosaics were chosen to represent variation in the number of post-fire age classes present, from 1 to 6 age classes (Figure 2). This represents a measure of the heterogeneity of the 'visible' mosaic. (It also offers the opportunity to investigate the 'invisible' mosaic because mosaics with multiple fires have a history of a sequence of burns over the last 40 years.) We will develop measures to quantify the temporal pattern of burns on each mosaic.

Figure 3 Example of sampling scheme within a mosaic.Mosaics were also selected such that there was a minimum of 2 km between the boundaries of adjacent mosaics, and they were generally established in pairs to allow survey teams to service two mosaics simultaneously.

Surveys

Modelling

Data gathered by the team in the field was used to develop mathematical models which identify the most powerful predictors of biodiversity responses to fire. Insights gained from these models will then be combined with GIS data layers to generate further models to predict flora and fauna responses to fire. These GIS-based models will then be used to produce spatially explicit models and maps for the region that identify areas of high biodiversity value.

Collaborators

Partners

This project would not be possible without the continued support of our partner agencies across the three states:

Results

The project's outcomes were presented in a series of workshops in Melbourne, Adelaide and Mildura during November 2010. A summary of the project results is presented in the Mallee Fire Biodiversity brochure.

Publications

Farnsworth,L.M., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2014) Does pyrodiversity beget alpha, beta or gamma diversity? A case study using reptiles from semi‐arid Australia. Diversity and Distributions, 20, 663-673.

Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Farnsworth,L.M., Watson, S.J. & Bennett, A.F. (2014) Why do some species have geographically varying responses to fire history? Ecography, 37, 805-813.

Avitabile, S.C., Callister, K.E., Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Fraser, L., Nimmo, D.G., Watson, S.J., Kenny, S.A., Taylor, R. S., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2013) Systematic fire mapping is critical for fire ecology, planning and management: A case study in the semi-arid Murray Mallee, south-eastern Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning 117: 81-91.

Kelly, L.T., Dayman, R., Nimmo, D.G., Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2013) Spatial and temporal drivers of small mammal distributions in a semi‐arid environment: The role of rainfall, vegetation and life‐history. Austral ecology, 38, 786-797.

Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Watson, S.J., Taylor, R.S., Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2013) Fire Mosaics and Reptile Conservation in a Fire‐Prone Region. Conservation biology, 2, 345-353.

Taylor, R.S., Watson, S.J., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2013) Which fire management strategies benefit biodiversity? A landscape-perspective case study using birds in mallee ecosystems of south-eastern Australia. Biological Conservation, 159, 248-256.

Haslem, A., Avitabile, S.C., Taylor, R.S., Kelly, L.T., Watson, S.J., Nimmo, D.G., Kenny, S.A., Callister, K.E., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2012) Time-since-fire and inter-fire interval influence hollow availability for fauna in a fire-prone system. Biological Conservation, 152, 212-221.

Watson, S.J., Taylor, R.S., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2012) The influence of unburnt patches and distance from refuges on post‐fire bird communities. Animal conservation, 15, 499-507.

Watson, S.J., Taylor, R.S., Spence-Bailey, L., Nimmo, D.G., Kenny, S., Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Griffioen, P., Callister, K., Brown, L., Avitabile, S., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2012) The Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Project. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 124, 38-46.

Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Watson, S.J., Haslem, A., White, J.G., Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2012) Predicting the century-long post-fire responses of reptiles. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 21, 1062-1073.

Watson, S.J., Taylor, R.S., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2012) Effects of time-since-fire on bird species: how informative are generalized fire-response curves for conservation management? Ecological Applications, 22, 685-696.

Taylor, R.S., Watson, S.J., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Bennett, A.F. & Clarke, M.F. (2012) Landscape-scale effects of fire on bird assemblages: does pyrodiversity beget biodiversity? Diversity and Distributions, 18, 519-529.

Kelly, L.T., Nimmo, D.G., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Taylor, R.S, Watson, S.J. Clarke, M.F. & Bennett, A.F. (2012) Managing fire mosaics for small mammal conservation: a landscape perspective. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49, 412-421.

Nimmo, D. G., James, S. G., Kelly, L. T., Watson, S. J., & Bennett, A. F. (2011). The decoupling of abundance and species richness in lizard communities. Journal of Animal Ecology, 80, 650-656.

Kelly, L. T., Nimmo, D. G., Spence-Bailey, L. M., Haslem, A., Watson, S. J., Clarke, M. F., Bennett, A.F. (2011) Influence of fire history on small mammal distributions: insights from a 100-year post-fire chronosequence. Diversity and Distributions, 17, 462-473.

Haslem, A., Kelly, L.T., Nimmo, D.G., Watson, S.J., Kenny, S.A., Taylor, R.S., Avitabile, S.C., Callister, K.E., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Bennett, A.F., & Clarke, M.F. (2010) Habitat or fuel? Implications of long-term, post-fire dynamics for the development of key resources for fauna and fire. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48, 247-256.

Haslem, A., Callister, K.E., Avitabile, S.C., Griffioen, P.A., Kelly, L.T., Nimmo, D.G., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Taylor, R.S., Watson, S.J., Brown, L., Bennett, A.F. and Clarke, M.F. (2010) A framework for mapping vegetation over broad spatial extents: A technique to aid land management across jurisdictional boundaries. Landscape and Urban Planning, 97, 296-305.

Clarke, M.F., Avitabile, S.C., Brown, L., Callister, K.E., Haslem, A., Holland, G.J., Kelly, L.T., Kenny, S.A., Nimmo, D.G., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Taylor, R.S., Watson, S.J. and Bennett, A.F. (2010) Ageing mallee eucalypt vegetation after fire: insights for successional trajectories in semi-arid mallee ecosystems. Australian Journal of Botany, 58, 363-372.

Spence-Bailey, L.M., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Bennett, A.F. and Clarke, M.F. (2010) Maximising trapping efficiency in reptile surveys: the role of seasonality, weather conditions and moon phase on capture success. Wildlife Research, 37, 104-115.

Kelly, L.T., Nimmo, D.G., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Clarke, M.F. and Bennett, A.F. (2010) The short-term responses of small mammals to wildfire in semiarid mallee shrubland, Australia. Wildlife Research, 37, 293-300.

Clarke M.F. (2008) Catering for the needs of fauna in fire management: science or just wishful thinking?Wildlife Research, 35, 385-394.

Nimmo D.G., Spence-Bailey L.M. and Kenny S. (2008) Range extension of the Millewa Skink Hemiergis millewae in the Murray-Sunset National Park, Victoria. The Victorian Naturalist, 125, 110-113.

Spence-Bailey L.M. and Nimmo D.G. (2008) A new record of the endangered Bardick Echiopsis curta, in south-western New South Wales. Herpetofauna, 38, 17-21.

Clarke M. and Bennett A. (2008) Fire and its relationship to managing fauna – the Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Project. Thinking Bush, 6, 22-23.