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Keywords:

  • feral predator;
  • long-term;
  • marsupial;
  • population dynamics;
  • succession

Abstract

The long-term impacts of wildfires on animal populations are largely unknown. We used time-series data based on a tracking index, from coastal NSW spanning 28 years after a wildfire, to investigate the relative influence of habitat structure, species interactions and climate on post-fire animal population dynamics. The fire had an immediate impact on habitat structure, reducing and simplifying vegetation cover, which then underwent post-fire successional change including an increase and plateau in tree canopy cover; an increase, stabilization and then decline in shrub cover; and an increase in ground litter cover. Population changes of different animal species were influenced by different components of successional change, but there was also evidence that species interactions were important. For example, bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus and Perameles nasuta combined) increased concurrent with an increase in shrub cover then declined at a faster rate than a direct association with senescing shrub cover would suggest, while the feral cat (Felis catus) population changed with the bandicoot population, suggesting a link between these species. Potoroos (Potorous tridactylus) increased 10 years after the fire concurrent with the closing tree canopy, but there was also evidence of a negative association with feral foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Variation in rainfall did not have significant effects on the population dynamics of any species. Our results suggest that changes in habitat structure play a key role in the post-fire dynamics of many ground-dwelling animals and hence different fire regimes are likely to influence animal dynamics through their effects on habitat structure. However, the role of predator–prey interactions, particularly with feral predators, is less clear and further study will require manipulative experiments of predators in conjunction with fire treatments to determine whether feral predator control should be integrated with fire management to improve outcomes for some native species.