Article

Testing hypotheses associated with bird responses to wildfire.

Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.
Ecological Applications (Impact Factor: 4.13). 01/2009; 18(8):1967-83. DOI: 10.1890/07-1943.1
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Disturbance is a key ecological process influencing the distribution and abundance of many elements of the earth's biota. Predicting the response of biota to disturbance is therefore important, but it nevertheless remains difficult to make accurate forecasts of response. We tested predictions from disturbance-related theories and concepts in 10 vegetation types at Booderee National Park (southeastern Australia) using a retrospective study of bird responses to fire history (over 35 years) on 110 sites and a prospective study following a single wildfire event in 2003 at 59 of these sites. Our data did not support predictions from the intermediate-disturbance hypothesis; observed bird species richness at a site was significantly (F(1,99) = 6.30, P = 0.014) negatively related to the number of fires since 1972 and was 8.7% lower (95% CI, 1.8-15.1%) for each additional fire. In contrast to fire history effects, we found that after the 2003 fire, the vast majority of individual species and the bird assemblage per se in most vegetation types recovered within two years. Thus, recovery after a single fire did not reflect long-term effects of multiple fires on overall bird species richness at a site. We postulated that the recovery of bird species richness and bird assemblage composition after the 2003 fire would be fastest in structurally simple vegetation types and slowest in structurally complex vegetation, but observed the opposite. Although observed bird species richness in vertically heterogeneous forest and woodland had returned to prefire levels by 2006, bird species richness in structurally simple vegetation types (e.g., sedgeland) had not. Postfire vegetation regeneration, together with a paucity of early-successional specialists, would explain the speed of recovery of the bird assemblage and why it changed relatively little during our investigation.

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