Interactions between wildfire and drought drive population responses of mammals in coastal woodlands

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Journal Article
Journal of Mammalogy, 2018, 99 (2), pp. 416 - 427
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© 2018 American Society of Mammalogists, Fire is an ecologically important process in many habitats. Increases in the frequency and intensity of wildfires due to anthropogenic activity or future changes in the global climate are suspected to impact heavily on components of the biota in fire-dependent landscapes, but there is almost no knowledge of how changes to fire regimes interact with other stressors such as drying environments. We used livetrapping techniques to investigate the effects of wildfire and drought on the abundance of 3 species of small mammals in coastal woodland in southeastern Australia. We used a generalized linear mixed effects model design to compare 4 years of post-fire trapping results with pre-fire data on both burned and unburned sites. Numbers of all small mammal species were declining due to drought prior to an extensive wildfire. Wildfire significantly exacerbated the decline in abundance of small mammals in the year after fire. A return to wetter climatic conditions was accompanied by a recovery in small mammal numbers, which was faster in unburned sites than burned sites. Our results demonstrate a strong linkage between climatic conditions, fire, and mammal assemblages, and emphasize the need for long-term research to disentangle the interactive effects of these factors on wildlife.
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