Context . Fire is a major ecological factor in many landscapes. Prescribed fires are often used in the management of vegetation for ecological values, wildlife habitat and reduction of risk of wildfire. However, debate continues over whether active fire management is beneficial to flora and fauna. Although bats comprise ∼20% of the world’s extant mammal fauna, they have been largely ignored in studies investigating ecosystem response to fire, especially in Australia.
Aims . In the present study, we aim to investigate the immediate responses of microbats to prescribed fires in a tropical eucalypt woodland.
Methods . We used a replicated paired experimental design, consisting of burned and unburned treatment and control sites, to investigate how bat activity and community structure change following a prescribed fire.
Key results . Total bat activity increased significantly following fire. Fire also resulted in changes in the bat species assemblage. Changes in community structure were driven by the following five species: Saccolaimus spp., Chalinolobus nigrogriseus, Chaerephon jobensis, Rhinolophus megaphyllus and unidentified Species c35. Activity of C. nigrogriseus, Saccolaimus spp., C. jobensis and Species c35 increased in the burned sites, whereas changes in the activity of R. megaphyllus were uncorrelated with the effects of fire.
Conclusions . The effect of fire on these species is consistent with flight patterns and habitat use; species with higher wing aspect ratios, such as Saccolaimus spp., which are capable of fast flight but with limited manoeuvrability, became more active in the open conditions created by fire.
Implications . The results of the present study suggest that prescribed fire as an environmental management tool may be beneficial to bats, at least in the short term, because it increases habitat suitability for a wider range of species.