Native mammals can be particularly vulnerable to predation by foxes immediately after fires as they try to find enough food and shelter to survive and recover in the disturbed landscape. Land managers often undertake fox control after wildfire and planned burns to help protect native animals during this critical stage. However there is limited information available to guide decisions on the level and timing of control that will effectively reduce the impact of predators. Planned burning is a management tool used to reduce fuel loads, however it is recognised that introduced predators may be advantaged as a result.
Using study sites in south-west Victoria, ARI researchers are investigating how habitat use and abundance of foxes and native ground-dwelling mammals change after fire in forests. This information will help plan when and where burns will occur and inform decisions on designing an effective predator control program. For example, if it is known that predator numbers tend to be high soon after a fire, then an intense control program may need to be implemented over a large area as quickly as possible.
Research so far has established that the presence of many mammal species in the study area, including the Long-nosed Potoroo, is linked to the occurrence of fox control, and to high levels of thick vegetation that provides refuge from predation. It has also been shown that this vegetation is reduced during fire. Data is currently being collected before and after planned burns, including the movements of foxes and feral cats by way of radio-tracking. Preliminary results suggest that these introduced predators increase the amount of time spent in areas after fire. The outcomes of this project will improve decision-making, policy formulation and on-going management to help reduce landscape-scale impacts of predation on native mammals following planned burns.
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Two ARI Technical reports on this work, including an earlier component carried out in East Gippsland, are available:
- ARI Technical Report 273 - The effects of interaction between planned burning and foxes on the presence of native mammals (PDF, 2.8 MB)
(accessible version (DOCX, 2.1 MB))