Aim A common strategy for conserving biodiversity in fire-prone environments is to maintain a diversity of post-fire age classes at the landscape scale, under the assumption that ‘pyrodiversity begets biodiversity’. Another strategy is to maintain extensive areas of a particular seral state regarded as vital for the persistence of threatened species, under the assumption that this will also cater for the habitat needs of other species. We investigated the likely effects of these strategies on bird assemblages in tree mallee vegetation, characterized by multi-stemmed Eucalyptus species, where both strategies are currently employed.
Location The semi-arid Murray Mallee region of south-eastern Australia.
Methods We systematically surveyed birds in 26 landscapes (each 4-km diameter), selected to represent gradients in the diversity of fire age classes and the proportion of older vegetation (> 35 years since fire). Additional variables were measured to represent underlying vegetation- or fire-mediated properties of the landscape, as well as its biogeographic context. We used an information-theoretic approach to investigate the relationships between these predictor variables and the species richness of birds (total species, threatened species and rare species).
Results Species richness of birds was not strongly associated with fire-mediated heterogeneity. Species richness was associated with increasing amounts of older vegetation in landscapes, but not with the proportion of recently burned vegetation in landscapes.
Main conclusions The preference of many mallee birds for older vegetation highlights the risk of a blanket application of the ‘pyrodiversity begets biodiversity’ paradigm. If application of this paradigm involved converting large areas from long unburned to recently burned vegetation to increase fire-mediated heterogeneity in tree mallee landscapes, our findings suggest that this could threaten birds. This research highlights the value of adopting a landscape-scale perspective when evaluating the utility of fire-management strategies intended to benefit biodiversity.