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How many common reptile species are fire specialists? a replicated natural experiment highlights the predictive weakness of a fire succession model

journal contribution
posted on 2008-02-01, 00:00 authored by Don DriscollDon Driscoll, M K Henderson
Species with strong preferences for early or late successional stages after fire may be extinction prone under current fire regimes. However, the extent of specialisation to time since fire is poorly understood, and, for reptiles, succession models for predicting responses are in the development phase. In this study we tested predictions of a reptile succession model, and identified species that may be fire specialists. Reptiles were sampled in five burnt and unburnt mallee Eucalyptus woodlands, Australia. Two, 400 m transects within each burn treatment were sampled using 11 pairs of pitfall-traps that were opened for five weeks over two summers. A habitat accommodation model of succession that was previously developed for mallee reptiles correctly predicted the observed responses of three of 16 common reptile species. A further four species showed non-significant trends in the predicted direction. However, eight other species showed unexpected responses. One species showed a strong interaction between burn age and location, requiring a two-dimensional successional model in contrast with the usual linear models explaining reptile responses to fire. One third of common species were not affected by fire and so may not have increased risks of extinction due to the fire suppression/incineration cycle. However, approximately half to two-thirds of common reptiles did have a fire response, so the risk of deterministic extinction in small fragments may be substantial. Further model development is needed to better predict fire responses and to assist the design of fire mosaics that can accommodate early and late successional fire specialists.



Biological conservation






460 - 471




Amsterdam, The Netherlands





Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2007, Elsevier