Tulloch A.I.T.,Australian National University |
Pichancourt J.-B.,CSIRO |
Gosper C.R.,CSIRO |
Sanders A.,Bush Heritage Australia Albany |
Ecological Applications | Year: 2016
Changed fire regimes have led to declines of fire-regime-adapted species and loss of biodiversity globally. Fire affects population processes of growth, reproduction, and dispersal in different ways, but there is little guidance about the best fire regime(s) to maintain species population processes in fire-prone ecosystems. We use a process-based approach to determine the best range of fire intervals for keystone plant species in a highly modified Mediterranean ecosystem in southwestern Australia where current fire regimes vary. In highly fragmented areas, fires are few due to limited ignitions and active suppression of wildfire on private land, while in highly connected protected areas fires are frequent and extensive. Using matrix population models, we predict population growth of seven Banksia species under different environmental conditions and patch connectivity, and evaluate the sensitivity of species survival to different fire management strategies and burning intervals. We discover that contrasting, complementary patterns of species life-histories with time since fire result in no single best fire regime. All strategies result in the local patch extinction of at least one species. A small number of burning strategies secure complementary species sets depending on connectivity and post-fire growing conditions. A strategy of no fire always leads to fewer species persisting than prescribed fire or random wildfire, while too-frequent or too-rare burning regimes lead to the possible local extinction of all species. In low landscape connectivity, we find a smaller range of suitable fire intervals, and strategies of prescribed or random burning result in a lower number of species with positive growth rates after 100 years on average compared with burning high connectivity patches. Prescribed fire may reduce or increase extinction risk when applied in combination with wildfire depending on patch connectivity. Poor growing conditions result in a significantly reduced number of species exhibiting positive growth rates after 100 years of management. By exploring the consequences of managing fire, we are able to identify which species are likely to disappear under a given fire regime. Identifying the appropriate complementarity of fire intervals, and their species-specific as well as community-level consequences, is crucial to reduce local extinctions of species in fragmented fire-prone landscapes. © 2016 Ecological Society of America.