Dylan M. Lees, Darcy J. Watchorn, Don A. Driscoll, Tim S. Doherty
Australian Journal of Zoology 69 (3), 67-79, (11 February 2022) https://doi.org/10.1071/ZO21022
KEYWORDS: bushfire, dasyurid, disturbance, fire ecology, habitat use, megafire, planned burn, prescribed burn, resource selection, rodent, wildfire
Understanding how fire influences animal behaviour, such as movement and resource selection, is important for ecosystem management because it can improve our capacity to predict how species will respond. We assessed microhabitat selection by two small mammals, the bush rat (Rattus fuscipes) and agile antechinus (Antechinus agilis), in response to a low intensity prescribed fire. We used spool and line tracking and touch pole vegetation surveys to quantify microhabitat selection along 21 trails for bush rats and 22 for antechinuses before and after fire. In unburnt areas, bush rats showed positive selection for sedges, logs, and habitat complexity, with selection further increasing in burnt areas for sedges, ferns, shrubs, habitat complexity and unburnt patches. Agile antechinuses showed no significant microhabitat selection in unburnt or burnt areas and no change in response to fire. Their lack of response to ground fires may be due, partially, to their scansorial behaviour and use of tree hollows as refuge sites. Strong selection by bush rats for small unburnt patches suggests that even low intensity, patchy fires such as planned burns can impact bush rats and that high burn patchiness may help bush rats persist in recently burnt areas. Future fire planning should consider both behavioural and population responses of animals to fire.