Context . Prescribed burning is widely adopted as a conservation-management tool, with priorities largely being the protection of fire-sensitive plant communities, threatened fauna habitat and minimising the risk and impacts of broad-scale wildfire. However, an improved understanding of the ecological mechanisms that underpin species responses to fire will assist the development and refinement of prescribed-burning practice.
Aims . To examine the effect of fire on burrow-system occupancy and breeding success at different spatial and temporal scales for a threatened skink, Liopholis kintorei.
Methods . Experimental burns simulating different fire types (clean burn, patchy burn and no burn) were conducted at 30 L. kintorei burrow systems that were selected from within a 75-ha focal study area. Burrow-system occupancy was monitored daily for 1 month, then monthly for an additional 3 months. Breeding success was assessed once at all 30 burrow systems. Eight additional 1-km2 sites within L. kintorei habitat that had experienced some degree of fire 2 years earlier were selected from across Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Burrow-system occupancy and breeding success of L. kintorei at these sites was assessed once.
Key results . There was no significant effect of fire on burrow-system occupancy 1 month after experimental burns; however, burrow-system occupancy was significantly higher at unburnt sites 4 months after experimental burns and 2 years post-fire. Breeding success was significantly higher at unburnt sites than at clean-burnt and patchy-burnt sites.
Conclusions . Fire adversely affects L. kintorei, as demonstrated by a higher proportion of unoccupied burrow systems and fewer successful breeding events post-fire, particularly when all ground cover is lost.
Implications . Because fire is an inevitable and natural process within arid-zone spinifex grasslands, the primary habitat for L. kintorei, we recommend prescribed-burning practices that aim to maximise ground cover by reducing the frequency, intensity and size of fires. More specifically, we recommend fire exclusion from key sites within distinct localities where L. kintorei is known to be locally abundant. Depending on the size of these key sites, there may also be a need to construct strategic fire breaks within sites to ensure that any unwanted ignitions do not result in the loss of all vegetation cover.