Please come along to Amy's and Saumya's PhD confirmation seminars to hear about their plans to better understand how landscape structure, fire and resource availability influence ground-dwelling mammal population persistence.
Join person or via Zoom.
Where: Small Lecture Theatre, Room 123, Uni Building, Creswick
When: 10.30-11.30 am, Friday 10 May
Both their projects involve measurement of vegetation structure in the beautiful heathy woodland of western Victoria and eastern South Australia. If you'd like to volunteer to help with data collection between July and October, please get in touch!
Our new paper arose from Hilman Sukma's Masters research, and highlights the importance of structurally complex vegetation for mammal functional diversity.
Hilman used wildlife cameras to survey mammals in the Otway Ranges, and combined species occurrence data with ecological trait information to derive measures of functional diversity, which provides a link between species diversity and ecosystem function.
Mammal functional diversity responded positively to two measures of vegetation structural complexity in both wet and dry forest. Hilman concluded that conserving structurally complex vegetation may help to enhance ecosystem function.
The paper is free to download until 22 December:
Sukma, H., Di Stefano, J., Swan, M. & Sitters, H. (2019). Mammal functional diversity increases with vegetation structural complexity in two forest types. Forest Ecology and Management. 433: 85-92
Kate presented her PhD completion seminar last week and is a (possum) whisker away from submitting her thesis. Her research focussed on edges, which are ecologically important environmental features that have been well researched in agricultural and urban landscapes but remain poorly understood in natural systems.
Fire is an agent of edge creation and a globally important driver of biome distribution and community composition, yet little is known about how fire edges affect ecological processes in flammable ecosystems. While edge effects and faunal-fire responses have been well studied independently, how animals respond to fire edges remains poorly understood.
Kate's thesis explores this knowledge gap focusing on the influence of fire edges on fauna, and discusses some methodological advances for ecological field studies. Her study sites were in Victoria's beautiful Central Highlands where she invested enormous energy installing remote cameras, trapping bush rats and agile antechinus, and fitting pesky-but-cute mountain brushtail possums with GPS collars. The possums in particular played very hard to get, but Kate's persistence paid off and she's currently putting the finishing touches on her analyses.
Congratulations Kate on your epic achievement!
A holy grail for ecological fire management and research: What aspects of the fire regime make plants and animals tick?
Growth-stage optimisation determines the proportions of vegetation growth stages (categorical representations of time since fire) that maximise species diversity, providing an operational goal for fire managers. To date, optimisation has only been applied to growth stages in a fire management context but other aspects of fire regimes, such as severity, are also likely to influence species diversity.
In our new paper, we ask:
1 How do growth stage and fire severity influence plant and vertebrate species’ occurrence?
2 What mix of growth stages and fire severities maximises the diversity of these groups?
We surveyed birds, mammals and plants in the tall wet forest of Victoria’s Central Highlands, and found that growth stage predicted the occurrence of many species. Severity of the most recent fire was important over and above growth stage for a small subset of species; however, low-severity fire was a more important driver of species diversity than any other growth stage or severity category.
Growth stage is a good surrogate for developing conservation targets in tall wet forests, but does not capture the full range of species’ fire responses. More complex versions of growth stage optimisation that accommodate multiple fire-regime variables need to be explored to yield ecologically meaningful conservation goals.
Swan, M., Sitters, H., Cawson, J., Duff, T., Wibisono, Y. & York, A. (2018). Fire planning for multispecies conservation: Integrating growth stage and fire severity. Forest Ecology and Management 415-416: 85-97
Having carefully balanced the evidence, we conclude that the honeymoon period lives on.
Last week the Fire & Fragmentation Project team ventured out to the heathy woodland between Dartmoor and Edenhope to set up their second round of camera traps. This work is part of Zahlia and Lauren's studies into the effects of fire and fragmentation on mammals. They are currently going through the photos from their first round of camera trapping, and will compile their favourites soon. Please stay tuned.
Thanks to Sarah, Lauren and Zahlia for providing all the evidence.
Alarmingly, it’s been two months since our last news item, so we’ve put together a collection of photos to illustrate some of our springtime activities.
Many thanks to Julio and Alan for these photos.
Superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are famous for mimicking the calls of other species, as well as chainsaws, car alarms and camera shutters.
Kate has recently discovered they also have a proclivity for attacking the cameras she’s using to study how fire edges influence animal distribution, abundance and movement in the Central Highlands.
She’s put together a video depicting a feisty encounter between a camera and a particularly determined individual.
The video contains prolonged scenes of strong violence and coarse language.
Watch at your peril.
Fire Ecology and Biodiversity at UniMelb
Bushfire Behaviour and Management at UniMelb
Quantitative & Applied Ecology Group at UniMelb
Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research at UniMelb