Predicting faunal fire responses in heterogeneous landscapes: the role of habitat structure



Predicting the effects of fire on biota is important for biodiversity conservation in fire-prone landscapes. Time since fire is often used to predict the occurrence of fauna, yet for many species, it is a surrogate variable and it is temporal change in resource availability to which animals actually respond. Therefore prediction of fire–fauna relationships will be uncertain if time since fire is not strongly related to resources. In this study, we used a space-for-time substitution across a large diverse landscape to investigate interrelationships between the occurrence of ground-dwelling mammals, time since fire, and structural resources. We predicted that much variation in habitat structure would remain unexplained by time since fire and that habitat structure would predict species' occurrence better than time since fire. In line with predictions, we found that time since fire was moderately correlated with habitat structure yet was a poor surrogate for mammal occurrence. Variables representing habitat structure were better predictors of occurrence than time since fire for all species considered. Our results suggest that time since fire is unlikely to be a useful surrogate for ground-dwelling mammals in heterogeneous landscapes. Faunal conservation in fire-prone landscapes will benefit from a combined understanding of fauna–resource relationships and the ways in which fire (including planned fires and wildfires) alters the spatial and temporal distribution of faunal resources.