Optimal Fire Histories for Biodiversity Conservaiton

A summary of my new paper in Conservation Biology:

Fire is used as a management tool for biodiversity conservation worldwide. A common objective is to avoid population extinctions due to inappropriate fire regimes. However, in many ecosystems, it is unclear what mix of fire histories will achieve this goal. We determined the optimal fire history of a given area for biological conservation with a method that links tools from 3 fields of research: species distribution modeling, composite indices of biodiversity, and decision science. We based our case study on extensive field surveys of birds, reptiles, and mammals in fire-prone semi-arid Australia. First, we developed statistical models of species’ responses to fire history. Second, we determined the optimal allocation of successional states in a given area, based on the geometric mean of species relative abundance. Finally, we showed how conservation targets based on this index can be incorporated into a decision-making framework for fire management. Pyrodiversity per se did not necessarily promote vertebrate biodiversity. Maximizing pyrodiversity by having an even allocation of successional states did not maximize the geometric mean abundance of bird species. Older vegetation was disproportionately important for the conservation of birds, reptiles, and small mammals. Because our method defines fire management objectives based on the habitat requirements of multiple species in the community, it could be used widely to maximize biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems.

land fire

Planned burning in semi-arid Australia. Photo: Peter Teasdale (Parks Victoria).

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