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Impact of fires on spider communities inhabiting semi-arid shrublands in Western Australia's wheatbelt

Strehlow, Karin Henriette (1993) Impact of fires on spider communities inhabiting semi-arid shrublands in Western Australia's wheatbelt. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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The impact of a high intensity autumn burn on spider communities was studied in the Durokoppin Nature Reserve, 27 km north of Kellerberrin, Western Australia. The design and the execution of the sampling programme were carried out by Dr. Gordon Friend and other members of the Fire Ecology Research Programme of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM). The vegetation in the invertebrate sampling grids was monitored by members of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The classification of the spiders and the analysis and interpretation of the data were undertaken as part of this Honours project.

Spiders were sampled at four sites (two control and two treatment sites) from 1987 to 1991 by means of pitfall traps. The treatment sites were burnt in March 1989.

Eighty-eight species comprising thirty-one families were recorded in the study area. The majority of these were vagrant ground dwelling spiders followed by ambushers, permanent burrow dwellers and web builders. Most of these spiders were found to have evolved life strategies similar to those of pioneer species (i.e. high dispersal ability, high reproductive rate, preference for open areas and bare ground) in response to the frequent climatic and other disturbances characteristic of Mediterranean-type regions.

The fire resulted in an immediate reduction in spider abundances and richness. Recolonization of the burnt area occurred at a rapid rate with spider populations returning to pre-fire conditions after only two years.

The recolonization of the area occurred from the immediate survivors of the fire and from the immigration of spiders from adjacent areas. The rate and direction of the post-fire succession were probably determined by the vegetation regrowth, herbivory, predation and climate.

Climate was an important factor in influencing spider communities. Rainfall and maximum temperature are believed to have influenced spider communities directly by affecting their reproductive behaviour and their activity, and indirectly by influencing the vegetation and the soil micro-climatic conditions.

The impacts of the fire on spider communities were found to be insignificant in the longer term when compared with the impact of climate.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Davis, Jenny, Friend, Gordon and Bradley, Stuart
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