What’s it about? It shows how reptiles respond to fire over very long time-frames. I think there is a tendency to assume that the effects of fire are dramatic but short-lived, and so once the greenery has returned, the ecosystem returns to its pre-fire state. In some ecosystems this might be the case, but in our study system – the Murray Mallee – it certainly isn’t.
We found that after fire, the occurrence of some species of reptile continues to change for at least 100 years. That is, when we apply fire to the landscape today, the influence of that fire will continue to be felt in a century (the year 2112!). Or, put another way, the influence of fires that burned in the mallee at the commencement of World War 1 can still be seen in the patterns of species occurrence today!
Why is this so? In the Murray Mallee region, fire has a strong and long-lasting effect on vegetation, which many faunal species rely on for shelter or thermoregulation. This long-term influence is not only apparent for reptiles, but also for birds and mammals. An interesting finding of all of these studies is that many fauna species are most likely to occur at very old sites (i.e. 50 to 100 years since fire), with several species continuing to increase in their probability of occurrence right up to the 100 year limit of the study. For example, the Mallee Ningaui , Spiny Tailed Geckos, and the Grey Shrike Thrush are all most likely to occur at sites that are 100 years since the last fire. The preference of many species for very old mallee vegetation is concerning, given the rarity of such age-classes within the broader region.
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