Fire severity influences the post-fire habitat structure and abundance of a cool climate lizard
In the spring and summer of 2019–2020, the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires burned more than 97 000 km2 of predominantly Eucalyptus dominated forest habitat in eastern Australia. The Black Summer bushfires prompted great concern that many species had been imperilled by the fires. Here, we investigate the effects that fire severity had on the habitat and abundance of a cool climate lizard Eulamprus tympanum that was identified as a species of concern because 37% of its habitat was burnt in the Black Summer bushfires. We quantified habitat structure and the abundance of E. tympanum at sites which were unburnt, burnt at low severity and at high severity 10, 15 and 23 months after the fires. Our classification of fire severity based on scorch height and canopy status corresponded well with the Australian Government Google Earth Engine Burnt Area Map (AUS GEEBAM) fire severity layer. Ten months after the fires, sites burnt at high severity had less canopy cover, more bare ground and less fine fuel than sites burnt at low severity or unburnt sites. The abundance of E. tympanum varied with survey occasion and was greatest during the warmest sampling period and lowest during the coolest sampling period. The abundance of E. tympanum was consistently lower on sites burnt at high severity than sites burnt at low severity or unburnt sites. Our findings show that higher severity fires had a greater effect on E. tympanum than low severity fires. Our results suggest that E. tympanum were likely to have persisted in burnt sites, with populations in low severity and unburnt sites facilitating population recovery in areas burnt at high severity. Our results also suggest that wildfire impacts on E. tympanum populations will increase because the frequency and extent of severe fires are expected to increase due to climate change.
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