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Keywords:

  • Alpha diversity;
  • beta diversity;
  • meta-analysis;
  • prescribed burn;
  • vertebrates;
  • wildfire

Abstract

Aim

We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis to investigate the responses of vertebrate diversity to fire, controlling for variables such as fire type, taxon and ecoregion to identify trends across studies and locations.

Location

World-wide.

Methods

We calculated indices of the difference in species richness (alpha diversity) and species composition (beta diversity) between burnt and unburnt habitats from studies reporting the species richness and assemblage composition of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. We used a hierarchical approach to investigate the effects of fire on alpha and beta diversity. We tested first for the main effect of fire before investigating the potential influence of fire type (wildfire/prescribed burn), taxon, ecoregion and geographical location (hemisphere/continent).

Results

One hundred and four studies were evaluated: 56 studies on birds, 26 on mammals, 17 on reptiles and 5 on amphibians. The studies fell into 14 ecoregions, with the three most common being temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, temperate grasslands and savannas and shrublands, and temperate coniferous forest. The effect of fire on species richness and community assemblage composition was strongly influenced by fire type. Prescribed burns significantly increased alpha diversity, whereas wildfires had no overall effect. However, wildfire increased the alpha diversity of temperate coniferous birds in North America. The effects of fire on alpha diversity were stronger in the Northern than the Southern Hemisphere. Turnover in species assemblages (beta diversity) was influenced primarily by fire type. Species assemblages in burnt and unburnt habitats were more similar after prescribed burns and generated lower levels of beta diversity than did wildfires.

Main conclusions

The divergent effects of wildfires and prescribed fires on the alpha and beta diversity of vertebrates and the disparate responses of vertebrate diversity to fires in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere suggest that there is no general response of vertebrate diversity to fire. Our results provide little support for the patch mosaic burn theory or the intermediate disturbance hypothesis to predict post-fire responses of vertebrate diversity.