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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • biological legacies;
  • disturbance;
  • prescribed fire;
  • residual habitat;
  • unburnt patch;
  • wildfire

Summary

  1. Rapid environmental change is placing increasing pressure on the survival of many species globally. Ecological refuges can mitigate the impacts of change by facilitating the survival or persistence of organisms in the face of disturbance events that would otherwise lead to their mortality, displacement or extinction. Refuges may have a critical influence on the successional trajectory and resilience of ecosystems, yet their function remains poorly understood.
  2. We review and describe the role of refuges in faunal conservation in the context of fire, a globally important disturbance process.
  3. Refuges have three main functions in relation to fire: they enhance immediate survival during a fire event, facilitate the persistence of individuals and populations after fire and assist in the re-establishment of populations in the longer term. Refuges may be of natural or anthropogenic origin, and in each case, their creation can arise from deterministic or stochastic processes. The specific attributes of refuges that determine their value are poorly known, but include within-patch attributes relating to vegetation composition and structure; patch-scale attributes associated with their size and shape; and the landscape context and spatial arrangement of the refuge in relation to fire patterns and land uses.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Refuges are potentially of great importance in buffering the effects of wildfire on fauna. There is an urgent need for empirical data from a range of ecosystems to better understand what constitutes a refuge for different taxa, the spatial and temporal dynamics of species' use of refuges and the attributes that most influence their value to fauna. Complementary research is also required to evaluate threats to naturally occurring refuges and the potential for management actions to protect, create and enhance refuges. Knowledge of the spatial arrangement of refuges that enhance the persistence of fire-sensitive species will aid in making decisions concerning land and fire management in conservation reserves and large natural areas. Global change in the magnitude and extent of fire regimes means that refuges are likely to be increasingly important for the conservation of biodiversity in fire-prone environments.