Beyond inappropriate fire regimes

Julianna Santos, Kate Senior, Luke Kelly and colleagues have a new paper in Conservation Letters on fire-driven mammal declines – and a companion piece in The Conversation.

The paper reveals how “inappropriate” fire patterns put 88% of Australia’s threatened land mammals at greater risk of extinction – from ground-dwelling bandicoots to tree-climbing possums and high-flying microbats. It also identifies what type of fires are most damaging to threatened mammals, and shows some mammals are suffering due to a lack of fire.

The work was a collaboration between scientists from University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales and Museums Victoria.

You can read the Abstract below, click this link for an open access version of the paper and email Julianna for more details.


Fire can promote biodiversity, but changing patterns of fire threaten species worldwide. While scientific literature often describes ‘‘inappropriate fire regimes’’ as a significant threat to biodiversity, less attention has been paid to the characteristics that make a fire regime inappropriate. We go beyond this generic description and synthesize how inappropriate fire regimes contribute to declines of animal populations using threatened mammals as a case study. We developed a demographic framework for classifying mechanisms by which fire regimes cause population decline and applied the framework in a systematic review to identify fire characteristics and interacting threats associated with population declines in Australian threatened land mammals (n = 99). Inappropriate fire regimes threaten 88% of Australian threatened land mammals. Our review indicates that intense, large, and frequent fires are the primary cause of fire-related population declines, particularly through their influence on survival rates. However, several species are threatened by a lack of fire, and there is considerable uncertainty in the evidence base for fire-related declines. Climate change and predation are documented or predicted to interact with fire to exacerbate mammalian declines. This demographic framework will help target conservation actions globally and will be enhanced by empirical studies of animal survival, movement, and reproduction.


Figure: A demographic framework for assessing fire-driven mechanisms of population decline and extinction. Fire regimes and their interactions with other abiotic and biotic processes can negatively impact three demographic processes—survival, movement, and reproduction—via seven primary mechanisms (M1–M7), leading to mammalian population decline and extinction. Arrows between the dashed boxes represent relationships between demographic processes, and in turn, these processes influence population change. A population may decline if fire reduces one or more of these demographic processes, and extinction occurs when the number of individuals declines to zero. The timing of each mechanism in relation to fire events or recurrent fire varies among species, and populations may decline because of one mechanism or a combination of mechanisms depending on a species’ life history and habitat preferences. Conservation Letters, First published: 30 June 2022, DOI: (10.1111/conl.12905)

Feature image: The northern quoll is an endangered mammal that inhabits tropical savannas. Image credit: S J Bennet, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons