Aim Fire is a major driver of ecosystem structure and process, and shifts in fire regimes are implicated in the decline of many species. Shifting fire regimes have been documented around the world, and fire frequency and extent is predicted to increase in many areas because of changes in both climate and land management. Here, we evaluate how predicted increases in fire frequency are likely to impact on species distributions.
Location The tropical savannas of northern Australia.
Methods We developed distribution models for 44 bird species using the modelling algorithm Maxent. Our models incorporated bird locality records and environmental variables including climate, total fire frequency and the subset of fire frequency occurring late in the dry season. We investigated the effect of increasing total fire frequency and increasing fire late in the dry season, on species distributions by projecting species model algorithms onto scenarios of incrementally increased total fire frequency.
Results The probability of presence for most species was higher when fire frequency late in the dry season was low. Species showed a mixed response to an overall increase in total fire frequency, with one-third predicted to increase in distribution. However, almost all species (98%) showed a decrease in predicted range with increased late-dry season fire, and species distribution area was generally negatively correlated with an increase in late-dry season fire.
Main conclusions Our study highlighted the array of responses of species to increasing fire frequency and suggested that increased fire frequency late in the dry season is detrimental to most savanna-restricted bird species. The understanding of individual species’ preferences for particular fire frequencies is important for informed conservation planning.