Deakin University
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Responses of invasive predators and native prey to a prescribed forest fire

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posted on 2017-05-29, 00:00 authored by B A Hradsky, C Mildwaters, Euan RitchieEuan Ritchie, F Christie, J Di Stefano
Fire shapes biome distribution and community composition worldwide, and is extensively used as a management
tool in flammable landscapes. There is growing concern, however, that fire could increase the vulnerability of
native fauna to invasive predators. We developed a conceptual model of the ways in which fire could influence
predator–prey dynamics. Using a before–after, control–impact experiment, we then investigated the short-term
effects of a prescribed fire on 2 globally significant invasive mesopredators (red fox, Vulpes vulpes, and feral
cat, Felis catus) and their native mammalian prey in a fire-prone forest of southeastern Australia. We deployed
motion-sensing cameras to assess species occurrence, collected predator scats to quantify diet and prey choice,
and measured vegetation cover before and after fire. We examined the effects of the fire at the scale of the burn
block (1,190 ha), and compared burned forest to unburned refuges. Pre-fire, invasive predators and large native
herbivores were more likely to occur at sites with an open understory, whereas the occurrence of most smalland
medium-sized native mammals was positively associated with understory cover. Fire reduced understory
cover by more than 80%, and resulted in a 5-fold increase in the occurrence of invasive predators. Concurrently,
relative consumption of medium-sized native mammals by foxes doubled, and selection of long-nosed bandicoots
(Perameles nasuta) and short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) by foxes increased. Occurrence of bush
rats (Rattus fuscipes) declined. It was unclear if fire also affected the occurrence of bandicoots or echidnas, as
changes coincided with normal seasonal variations. Overall, prescribed fire promoted invasive predators, while
disadvantaging their medium-sized native mammalian prey. Further replication and longer-term experiments are
needed before these findings can be generalized. Nonetheless, such interactions could pose a serious threat to
vulnerable species such as critical weight range mammals. Integrated invasive predator and fire management are
recommended to improve biodiversity conservation in flammable ecosystems.



Journal of mammalogy






835 - 847


Oxford University Press


Oxford, Eng.







Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2017, American Society of Mammalogists