Effects of weed-management burning on reptile assemblages in Australian tropical savannas
Valentine, L.E. and Schwarzkopf, L. (2009) Effects of weed-management burning on reptile assemblages in Australian tropical savannas. Conservation Biology, 23 (1). pp. 103-113.
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Fire is frequently used for land management purposes and may be crucial for effective control of invasive non-native plants. Nevertheless, fire modifies environments and may affect nontarget native biodiversity, which can cause conflicts for conservation managers. Native Australian reptiles avoid habitat invaded by the alien plant rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) and may be susceptible to the impacts of burning, a situation that provides a model system in which to examine possible conservation trade-offs between managing invasive plants and maintaining native biodiversity. We used replicated, experimental fire treatments (unburned, dry-season burned, and wet-season burned) in 2 habitats (riparian and adjacent open woodland) to examine the short- (within 12 months of fire) and longer-term (within 3 years of fire) changes of reptile assemblages in response to wet- and dry-season burning for weed management in tropical savannas of northern Australia. Within 12 months of fire, abundances of the skink Carlia munda (Scincidae) were higher in the burned sites, but overall reptile composition was structured by habitat type rather than by effects of burning. Within 3 years of a fire, the effects of fire were evident. Reptiles, especially the gecko Heteronotia binoei (Gekkonidae), were least abundant in dry-season burned sites; litter-associated species, including Carlia pectoralis (Scincidae), were rarely observed in burned habitat; and there were fewer species in the wet-season burned sites. Reptile abundance was associated with vegetation structure, which suggests that fire-induced changes detrimentally altered the availability of resources for some reptiles, particularly leaf-litter species. Invasive alien plants, such as rubber vine, have severe effects on native biodiversity, and control of such species is a fundamental land management objective. Nevertheless, fire management of invasive alien plants may adversely affect native biodiversity, creating a conservation conundrum. In such scenarios, land managers will need to identify the most desired conservation goal and consider the consequences for native biota.
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