Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Prescribed burns help to restore native mammal populations

[Oct 2013]

A recent study has shown that regular, prescribed burns are assisting to restore native mammal populations in the North and Central Kimberley.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) through the ‘EcoFire’ regional fire management project funded by Rangelands NRM has been looking at the interactions between introduced herbivores and fire on small to medium-sized native mammals.

Dr Sarah Legge, National Conservation and Science Manager at AWC said numbers and diversity of small to medium-sized mammals in north Australia have been declining due to changed fire patterns, introduced herbivores and predation by feral cats.

“Recent work has shown that frequent fire leads to mammal decline,” Dr Legge said.

The EcoFire project has been successfully bringing people together to tackle wildfires for seven years. Through a prescribed burning program, the seasonality of burning has been dramatically shifted from late to early in the dry season, and the possibility for large scale, uncontrolled burns have been reduced.

Dr Legge said looking at the effect of the fire-herbivore interaction on native wildlife is important because Kimberley fire patterns are changing due to EcoFire. The recent work carried out by AWC has shown there is clearly an interaction between fire and herbivores on vegetation.

“We have been able to show that by changing burning patterns, mammal populations increase but only if you are managing introduced herbivores at the same time,” Dr Legge said.

“In de-stocked areas, vegetation recovers quickly after fire and creates ground cover, and as the vegetation age increased, mammal abundance and richness also increased,” Dr Legge said.

“However, in stocked areas the post-fire regrowth is quickly removed by stock. We found that in these places, even when fire patterns improved the mammal populations didn’t increase,” Dr Legge said.

Dr Legge said pastoralists already know that spelling grass after a fire can be important for longer term pasture management; what this research tells us is that it’s also important for native wildlife.

For more information, contact Dr Sarah Legge 08 9191 4619 or email.

Caption: AWC’s Hugh McGregor with a Northern Quoll captured during survey work carried out on Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (© S.Legge/AWC)