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The effects of fire on burrow-nesting seabirds particularly short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) and their habitat in Tasmania

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The synchronised breeding habit of many seabird species makes them particularly vulnerable to fires in the nesting area. Post-fire recolonisation and soil formation were studied on Albatross Island, and observations from island rookeries ofshearwaters, fairy prions and fairy penguins in eastern Bass Strait and elsewhere were used with a view to understanding the long-term impact offires on seabird colonies in Tasmania.
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... The Traditional Owners, collectively the Wudjari represented today by the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC) in the Esperance region, are working on a reinstatement program cultural burning In southern Australia, a single study documenting vegetation recovery within seabird colonies following an accidental fire indicated recolonisation to 100% vegetation cover (mainly succulents such as Disphyma crassifllium) required around six years (Brothers & Harris, 1999). The seabirds (primarily Short-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna tenuirostris) on this island were slower to recover, with burrow occupancy around 16% lower than average, even after seven years post-burn (Brothers & Harris, 1999). ...
... The Traditional Owners, collectively the Wudjari represented today by the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC) in the Esperance region, are working on a reinstatement program cultural burning In southern Australia, a single study documenting vegetation recovery within seabird colonies following an accidental fire indicated recolonisation to 100% vegetation cover (mainly succulents such as Disphyma crassifllium) required around six years (Brothers & Harris, 1999). The seabirds (primarily Short-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna tenuirostris) on this island were slower to recover, with burrow occupancy around 16% lower than average, even after seven years post-burn (Brothers & Harris, 1999). Fire events like these are not uncommon and have had significant, long-lasting impacts elsewhere. ...
... Fire events like these are not uncommon and have had significant, long-lasting impacts elsewhere. For example, two separate bushfire incidents on Little Dog Island and Cat Island in Tasmania caused the mortality of around 162,000 Little Shearwaters Puffinus assimilis and 20,000 Australasian Gannets Morus serrator, respectively (Brothers & Harris, 1999;DPIPWE, 2000). Despite significant efforts to encourage recruitment over many decades, the gannet population on Cat Island has not recovered (DPIPWE, 2000). ...
Article
Traditional burning regimes have long been employed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate high-intensity wildfires. The link between changes in the distribution, success, and timing of breeding in seabirds and climatic and oceanographic variation in the marine environment has been established, with migratory seabirds less able to respond to climate variability than resident species. While climate-driven changes can also occur on seabird breeding islands, few data are available regarding potential impacts. Here we investigate the frequency and severity of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in Western Australia, regarding the 2020 fire on Figure of Eight Island in the Recherche Archipelago. A lack of quantitative, historical surveys limited our ability to quantify the number of shearwaters lost in this event. However, a review of available data suggests thousands of birds die due to burning every one or two years across the Archipelago. On Figure of Eight, shearwater burrow occupancy and density were low 12 months post-burn (0.25 and 0.02 ± 0.03, respectively), with minimal evidence of recovery (very few burrows detected) 23 months post-burn. We discuss opportunities to develop an adaptive, community-based program for reinstating collaborative, cultural methods of fire management and monitoring regimes on seabird breeding islands in Australia.
... For example, a fire that occurs in December when breeding birds are incubating in burrows can wipe out half a population, whereas a fire that kills chicks may have little impact on the overall population. Even when fires occur when shearwaters are in the northern hemisphere, over a prolonged period winter fires can decrease burrow density through increased soil instability (Brothers and Harris 1999). In addition, frequent burning of tussock grassland is likely to result in other undesirable outcomes, including increased thistle prevalence. ...
... Procellariiformes (albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels) are particularly long-lived seabirds, some with declining populations (Warham 1990;Baker et al. 2002). Populations may be decreasing because their island breeding habitat is being lost or degraded due to human development or disturbance (Brothers & Harris 1999;Taylor 2000;Micol & Jouventin 2001;Le Corre et al. 2002;keitt et al. 2003;); because predators have been introduced to their breeding islands (Simons 1985;Cooper et al. 1995;Booth et al. 1996;Gaze 2000;Taylor 2000;Twyford et al. 2000;Copson & Whinam 2001;Cuthbert 2004;Martínez-Gómez & Jacobsen 2004;Schulz et al. 2005;de León et al. 2006;Igual et al. 2006); or because of mortality associated with long-line fishing (Baker et al. 2002;Baker & Wise 2005;Ryan et al. 2006;Sullivan et al. 2006). Investigator disturbance that reduces reproductive success in already-stressed populations might not only hasten these population declines but might also interfere with the accurate assessment of demographic parameters (Blackmer et al. 2004). ...
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Despite long‐held concerns about the effects of researchers on breeding birds, few studies have focused on the impact of investigators on Procellariiformes. In this review, we summarise published investigations concerning the effects of investigators on physiology, behaviour, reproductive success, offspring quality, and population trends of procellariiform seabirds. Many of the smaller procel‐lariid taxa, such as storm‐petrels (Hydrobatidae, and some shearwater Puffinus species) are particularly sensitive to handling during the incubation period, resulting in lowered reproductive success, burrow shifts, and increased divorce between pairs. However, repeated handling of chicks does not seem to have a discernible effect on chick quality. In larger procellariiforms, the presence of researchers within the breeding colony is associated with significant increases in heart rates. Therefore, researchers seeking unbiased estimates of demographic and ecological parameters of birds should be encouraged to measure their own impact and report the findings in the literature, even if they detect no adverse effects of investigator disturbance. Techniques should be developed that ensure the accurate recording of birds’ natural behaviour while minimising the impact of investigator disturbance. If investigators are willing to study disturbance problem s, it should be possible to reduce biases caused by their activities.
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We reviewed the temporal, geographic, and biogeographic distribution, as well as relevant research and publication attributes, of 512 documents addressing the effects of fire on avian communities, to provide an assessment of the scope of this literature and recommendations for future research. We summarized relevant attributes of all documents to identify patterns that were then tested against appropriate null models. Most documents reported on original research, with the literature evenly divided between studies investigating controlled fire and those reporting on uncontrolled wildfires. Conceptual reviews made up the second largest category; methodological reviews, bibliographies, and meta-analyses were rare. Although the literature examined spans nearly a century, most documents were published within the last 15 years, with new literature being added at an increasing rate. However, increases seem to be skewed towards original research at the expense of synthesis. An overwhelming majority of documents were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and in English. Other important publication outlets included MS and PhD theses and conference proceedings. The spatial distribution of documents by continent and biogeographic domain and division differed significantly from expectations based on land area. Future research on avian community response to fire should focus on (1) continued synthesis, emphasizing methodological reviews, bibliographies, and North America; (2) increasing research efforts in areas currently underrepresented in the literature, including Africa, Asia, and South and Central America; and (3) meta-analyses.
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Extensive modification of coastal vegetation at the Pineapples and Cape Deslacs rookeries is related to the burrowing, trampling and guano deposition Puffinus tenuirostris. Two distinct but interacting phases of vegetation succession are affected by coastal influence, edaphic factors and the presence or absence of nesting areas. -from Authors
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The harvest of Short-tailed Shearwater chicks during the 1977, 1978 and 1979 seasons was estimated by counting bur- rows along transects in colonies before and after the season. Analysis of results showed that only five transects, each 100 metres long, were required to estimate accurately the proportion of burrows occupied. During incubation in December the mean percentage of burrows occupied in the 1979 season was seventy-six per cent. Before the season opened in March, it declined to between thirty-five and sixty-five per cent each season. Counting in April after the season showed that, in the colony reserved for non-commercial or private use, over eighty per cent of the chicks originally present in March were taken but at the colony reserved for commercial purposes the mean crop over three seasons was thirty-five per cent. Short-tailed Shearwaters are in no danger from exploitation but some heavily harvested colonies could be.
Article
Variation in the vegetation in and adjacent to a Puffinus tenuirostris breeding colony at Cape Queen Elizabeth, Bruny Island, Tasmania is related much more closely to burrow density, bare ground and soil dryness than to either the phosphorus or organic content of the soils. Between 1977 and 1992, burrow density declined on average by 0.11 per m2. In the parts of the rookery where burrow density decreased, Rhagodia candolleana Moq. increased its cover. Where burrow density remained constant or increased, Pteridium esculentum (G.Forster) Cockayne and Lomandra longifolia Labill. had declining cover. The major overall changes were increases in the cover of the succulent scramblers Tetragonia implexicoma (Miq.)J.D.Hook and Rhagodia candolleana at the expense of Pteridium esculentum and Lomandra longifolia.
Article
The sclerophyllous heath and scrub which occupies undisturbed granite coasts is essentially a vegetation of infertile, acid soils deficient in available phosphorus and nitrogen and sometimes in potassium and certain microelements. In sea-bird colonies soil reaction and fertility are altered by the deposition of guano, which is rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, and the indigenous heath and scrub are destroyed. Mechanical disturbance and chemical changes hinder the accumulation of surface peat. Toxicity of guano in summer leads to a specialized flora and limits the total number of species. Comparison of floristic data from sea-bird islands and nearby control areas with no nesting sea-birds illustrates the widely divergent nature of the flora in the two habitats. Heath species are almost non-existent in the rookeries, and sclerophylls, switch plants, and woody plants much rarer than in the control areas. Conversely, succulents, annuals, biennials, and aliens are considerably more abundant in the rookeries. Man is the primary introducer of alien plants; but gulls are also important in this respect, and all colonial sea-birds make the habitat more suitable for invasion by ruderals in the autumn when mechanical disturbance ceases and guano becomes diluted to beneficial concentrations. Where man has access to the rookeries large areas may become dominated by introduced weeds which are seldom able to establish themselves on unmodified heath soils. The vegetation of sand dunes (to which few nutrients are being added and from which few have been leached) lies between that of the leached soils of heaths and the guano-rich soils of rookeries overlying granite in all the above characters, in spite of the markedly different physical nature of the substratum, and contains a higher proportion of creeping plants than either. Guano and sea salt have parallel effects on vegetation, and the presence of sea-birds leads to a broadening of the coastal belt of salt-resistant plants and elimination of the indigenous, more inland type of flora. Pteridium esculentum and Leptospermum laevigatum are important species in the transition zone between either saline or guano-rich habitats and the surrounding heath.
Article
The number of breeding burrows occupied each year declined steadily during the first 25 yr of the study, at the end of which numbers had been reduced by 71%. More recently, numbers have begun to increase. No change has occurred in the relative sizes of 3 sub-colonies existing within Fisher Island. Annual rates of breeding success were usually lower than those reported from other colonies. Some chicks were raised every year; on average, the smallest sub-colony was as successful as the largest. Nearly all breeding failures occurred before the chick-rearing stage and few successfully hatched chicks failed to fledge. Age at first breeding for both sexes ranged from 5 to at least 10 yr. Losses of immatures and young adults through emigration were offset by an annual recruitment of unbanded immigrations, most of which could not have been bred on the island. After 30 yr, the proportion of Fisherbred breeders in the colony was stable at 41-46%. Band recoveries confirmed inter-colony dispersal by young adults. Repeated disturbance of the colony during the course of the study is thought to have contributed to the decline of the colony, due to increased burrow desertion, decreased breeding success and decreased recruitment of young adults.-from Authors
The Fisher Island field station -with an account of its principle flora and fauna
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