Prof John White of Deakin University. ( He was Mike Stevens supervisor in 2007,8 as Mike started his honours thesis on small mammals after the 2006 fire. He currently has quite a few different honours students following up the research.)
Climate change will most likely cause more frequent and more intense wildfires, bringing significant alterations to fire regimes and the potential for more loss of flora and fauns species. Also predicted is an increased chance of drought, punctuated by extreme rainfall events.
There are big knowledge gaps. Most research is on prescribed burning and small fires. The critical gap is large fires, which are going to come more often. Who survives a fire, and why? Where do the recolonising animals come from? What is the role of the climate conditions post fire on the recovery?
What they are doing: Monitoring 36 sites set up post the 2006 fire, but not immediately. 26 in burnt area, 10 outside it. 6 of these sites were burnt in Feb 2013 (I didn’t catch how many of these were previously burnt ). Each site is trapped 4 nights a year, with individuals sexed, tagged and identified. In 2012 they started genetically sampling, which they now wished they had started earlier. He showed a detailed slide of the story so far (see below). Steady slow recovery at first, great increase 2011,12, dramatic slump in 2013 especially bandicoot numbers. He also showed slides of the rainfall history, clearly a major factor. 1995 -2010 was the longest and most serious drought in 150 years: = slow recovery, 2011 serious rain event := boom, 2012,13 very hot ,below average spring and summer: = crash and another fire. Rainfall is a bottom up feeder (the increase in vegetation speeds up the recovery). The long term detailed data we are collecting in the Grampians is critical to our understanding of fire and climate. No-one else is doing it anywhere ! [Editor’s comment:Hooray for Mike Stevens for starting it!] And it has to be done regularly so as to pick up the booms and busts. If it was annual or less, they would have missed some of them.
He highlighted a few important findings and questions up to before the Feb 2013 fire:
- systems can recover from large fires.
- Distance from the unburnt part of the park did not affect the small mammal recovery, so where do the colonisers come from?
- Recolonisation being uniform supports that the role of refuge habitats is important. So what are the important habitat refuges in the Grampians landscape? Who survives a big fire?
Camera surveys in April – June 2010 helped explore the role of gullies and depressions. There are more small animals in heathlands than in forests, more animals in gullies and depressions than elsewhere.
Then came the Feb 2013 fire. This time they were able to come in quickly. It is very early days but there are some preliminary findings: some survival in the burnt areas, mainly antechinus. Logs and structures are critical.
In talking to John and Ryan at lunchtime, I mentioned that FOGGS had in the past helped some students with costs. Ryan then told me that there was indeed an urgent need for more money to help student work. This Ballarat Uni one is covered for this year, but the surveys arising from the Museum Victoria snapshot has insufficient funding. We decided I would approach the FOGG committee about providing $3000 to help .
Here are two of the slides John showed us. He stresses that they are simplified, and provisional, yet I found them really interesting, and I hope you do too.
I had to look up the common names of these animals: M.musculus is the common house mouse, A.agilis is the agile antechinus, P shortridgei is heath mouse, R.lutreolus is swamp rat, S. murina is common dunnart, A. flavipes yellow-footed antechinus, A. swainsonii dusky antechinus, T vulcepular brushtail possum, R. rattus common rat, I.obesulus southern brown bandicoot, C. nanus Eastern pygmy possum, P. Breviceps sugar glider, P. fumeus smoky mouse. Of these, all are native except the house mouse and the common rat.
FOGGS are hoping that later we will have a presentation to us, either from John himself or some of his students. It is such an important project.