Small mammal responses to pyric successional changes in eucalypt forest

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Abstract

Sixteen 1-ha study plots covering five regeneration stages were simultaneously trapped five times over a 20-month period to provide data on small mammal response to vegetation changes following fire. Areas regenerating after fires from 9 years to 1 month before the investigation were sampled in a uniform open forest on a coastal sand plain. Two types of understorey were recognized: one dominated by true forest shrubs with which Rattus fuscipes, Antechinus stuartii and Sminthopsis murina were associated, and another dominated by heath elements where the addition of Pseudomys novaehollandiae and Mus musculus produced a significantly more diverse small mammal community. The two communities exhibited different responses to post-fire vegetation changes.

Rattus fuscipes was the most abundant species and showed a logistic growth in biomass. No resident populations were established in the first 3 years, but a rapid increase in biomass occurred from 3 to 5 years to plateau after 8 years. Regeneration age had the greatest effect on R. fuscipes biomass mediated through the amount of accumulated leaf litter with additional variation being attributed to several vegetation structure variables and plant species diversity.

A replacement sequence in time was observed for species reaching their maximum abundance (P. novaehollandiae and/or M. musculus → S. murina → A. stuartii → R. fuscipes) and was interpreted as species occupying stages in the succession when their optimal habitat requirements were fulfilled. These results have important implications for the design of management policies using fire or fire regimes as tools for habitat maintenance or alteration. A mosaic of forest patches of adequate size covering the entire range of seral stages is necessary to meet the optimum requirements of all the above species.

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