Mallee fire and biodiversity project

Fire is a major influence on ecosystems worldwide. In fire-prone regions, the pattern and frequency of fire are an important influence on the flora and fauna. In the semi-arid ‘mallee’ ecosystem in South East Australia, fire occurs regularly. We addressed two main questions:

  • How does the flora and fauna change in relation to time since fire?
  • What are the properties of fire mosaics that are more (or less) suitable for conservation?

We selected 28 landscapes, each 4 km diameter, representing a range of different fire mosaics, and surveyed the birds, small mammals, reptiles, selected invertebrates, plants and habitat structure at multiple sites in each landscape. Animal species showed a range of responses to time since fire.

Some occur in any fire age class, some were more frequently observed in ‘younger’ vegetation, many were most common in mid-aged (~20-40 years) vegetation, and others in ‘older’ vegetation (>40 years). These patterns reflect their habitat requirements and the time-scales over which habitats change after fire: spinifex, for example, reaches maximum cover ~30 years post-fire.

There was little evidence that the diversity of animal species (birds, mammals, reptiles) was associated with the diversity of post-fire age-classes: rather the total amount of suitable habitat (of a fire age-class, or vegetation type) was an important influence at the landscape scale. Rainfall and species interactions (e.g. predation, competition) also are important drivers for some species.

Team members

Project partners

  • Dept Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Victoria)
  • Mallee Catchment Management Authority
  • Parks Victoria
  • Dept for Environment & Water (SA)
  • Office of Environment & Heritage (NSW)
  • Lower Murray Darling CMA
  • Land and Water Australia
  • BirdLife Australia Gluepot Reserve
  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy
  • Deakin University
  • Fire and wildlife in the Mallee: Insights for conservation and management
  • 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., Clarke, M.F. and Bennett, A.F. 2011. 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.
  • Taylor, R.S., Watson, S.J., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Bennett, A.F. and Clarke, M.F. 2012. Landscape-scale effects of fire on bird assemblages: does pyrodiversity beget biodiversity? Diversity and Distributions 18: 519-529.
  • Watson, S.J.A., Taylor, R., Nimmo, D.G., Kelly, L.T., Clarke, M.F. and Bennett, A.F. 2012.  Effects of time-since-fire on birds: how informative are generalised fire response curves for conservation management? Ecological Applications 22: 685-696.
  • Kelly, L.T., Nimmo, D.G., Spence-Bailey, L.M., Taylor, R., Watson, S.J., Clarke, M.F. and Bennett, A.F.2012.  Managing fire mosaics for small mammal conservation: a landscape perspective. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 412-421.