Burning season influences the response of bird assemblages to fire in tropical savannas
Valentine, LE and Schwarzkopf, L and Johnson, CN and Grice, AC, Burning season influences the response of bird assemblages to fire in tropical savannas, Biological Conservation, 137, (1) pp. 90-101. ISSN 0006-3207 (2007) [Refereed Article]
Fire plays a pivotal role in structuring ecosystems and often occurs as a human-mediated disturbance for land management purposes. An important component of fire regime is the season of burn. In tropical savannas, most fire management occurs during the dry season; however, wet season burning is often used for pastoral management and may be useful for controlling introduced plant species. We used replicated, experimental fire treatments (unburnt, dry season burnt and wet season burnt), spanning two habitats (riparian and adjacent open woodland), to examine the short- (within 12 months of fire) and longer-term (within four years of fire) changes of bird assemblages in response to wet and dry season burning in tropical savannas of northern Australia. Within 12 months of fire, we observed higher abundances of birds in the burnt treatments, although some species (e.g., red-backed fairy-wren, Malurus melanocephalus) were rarely observed in burnt sites. Dry season burnt sites contained higher abundances of insectivores and granivores, while wet season burnt sites had more carnivores. Four years following burning, dry season burnt sites were characterized by lower abundances, especially of nectarivores and granivores. Dry season burnt sites also contained a different assemblage than wet season burnt sites, but few differences were observed between wet season burnt and unburnt sites. Our results confirm that differences in fire regimes can substantially alter bird assemblages, especially in riparian zones, and emphasize the importance of incorporating burning season in fire management strategies.