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Keywords:

  • arid;
  • fire ecology;
  • fire management;
  • habitat specialist;
  • snake

Abstract

In arid Australia, changes to historic fire regimes may now produce more large-scale wildfire events. The impacts of these fires on fauna communities are poorly known. We sought to test the impacts of fire on the occurrence of two arid-zone snake species, the desert death adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) and monk snake (Parasuta monachus), specialist inhabitants of hummock grassland and mulga shrubland, respectively. We also examined the influence of fire on the occurrence of a habitat generalist, the sympatric Stimson's python (Antaresia stimsoni). Under an Information-Theoretic framework we modelled the occurrence of each species with a range of habitat variables, including fire history, using logistic regression. As predicted, the two habitat specialists were more likely to be encountered at locations that had a lower percentage of surrounding area burnt in the most recent wildfires (2002), while fire variables failed to predict the occurrence of the habitat generalist. Acanthophis pyrrhus, already predisposed to endangerment through a suite of life-history characteristics, may be at increased risk through accidental and deliberate burning and fragmentation of old-growth hummock grasslands. We stress the importance of prescribed burning and natural fire breaks in maintaining areas of old-growth hummock grassland across the landscape.