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What happens to wildlife after bushfires?

The area surrounding bushfires dictates what species survive and which thrive afterwards, finds a new Australian study.

Influencing the re-building of post-fire ecological communities was the species in the surrounding unburnt landscape, as well as the surrounding natural vegetation.

The study, which looked at Victorian areas affected by bushfires, has been published in the journal Wildlife Research.

Surrounding areas influence recolonisation

When the researchers looked at burnt areas surrounded by agriculture regions, invasive species such as Australian ravens, magpies and house mice were some of the most commonly found recolonising species.

However, native species such as crested bellbirds, hopping mice and white-eared honeyeater were commonly found recolonising burnt areas surrounded by mallee vegetation.

Other native species such as Major Mitchell’s cockatoos, mallee ringnecks and white-winged choughs were commonly found recolonising burnt areas surrounded by a mix of mallee vegetation and sparse grassy woodland.

The findings also highlight that in order to minimise damage of large bushfires and to protect important species and vegetation, strategic burns create firebreaks which is vital in slowing the spread of fire.

Key consideration for conservation programs and strategic burns

Author, Angela Simms from La Trobe University, says the study also opens up an important discussion on how conservationists can make informed decisions on planned and strategic burning.

“With our dry climate, Australia has seen more than its fair share of destructive bushfires. This, in conjunction with increasing habitat loss more generally, means that it’s not uncommon to see localized extinctions of species after a fire.

“We can conclude that the surrounding habitat and vegetation to a fire directly determines the species that will recolonise that area.

“From this, we know the wider landscape context – particularly surrounding species and vegetation – should be a key consideration for conservation programs when planning locations for strategic burns.

“But it also tells us a lot about what to expect when a bushfire does take place, and what preparations they can undertake to restore native wildlife that could be vulnerable when needed.

“There is still much to learn about post-fire fauna communities but this study marks the start of a journey to better understand how we can protect important wildlife before, during and after fires.”

This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.