Fire and biodiversity in the Kimberley

The effect of fire on biodiversity in the Kimberley region of Western Australia is the focus of a collaboration between CSIRO and the Western Australian Government.

The Challenge

Fire regimes have changed

The vast majority of bushfires in Australia occur in the savanna landscapes of the tropical north, where bushfire issues relate primarily to landscape management rather than protection of life and property.

Bushfire is an especially dominant factor in the Kimberley region in north-western Australia, where up to 50 per cent of the landscape is burnt each year. Most of the fires are lit by people, including conservation managers, pastoralists and traditional Aboriginal land owners.

There is widespread concern that changed fire regimes following disruption of traditional Aboriginal burning practises has led to substantial declines in biodiversity values across northern Australia.

Our Response

Looking at the impact of fire on biodiversity

Mitchell Falls in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Ant surveys at Mitchell Falls have shown the fauna to be highly resilient in relation to fire.

CSIRO is collaborating with the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife on a range of projects looking at the effects of fire on biodiversity in the Kimberley. CSIRO's role is to assess the effects of fire on ant biodiversity, and on macroinvertebrate assemblages more broadly.

The Results

Ants bounce back quickly

Ant surveys of Mitchell Falls and Mirrima National Park have shown the fauna to be highly resilient in relation to fire, with no relationship between the ant species occurring at a site and its fire history. Fire had a major short-term impact on overall invertebrate assemblages of the grass-layer, but these were restored to pre-fire levels by the first wet season after fire.

Such short-lived post-fire effects among grass-layer invertebrates, plus evidence that most other invertebrate groups are fire-resilient, suggests that food resource limitation is not a driver of fire-related declines among populations of small mammals in the region.

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