Bioturbation by a reintroduced digging mammal reduces fuel loads in an urban reserve

Date: 09, Oct, 2019
Author(s):   Ryan, C.M., Hobbs, R.J., Valentine, L.E.
Publisher: Ecological Applications

Digging animals may alter many characteristics of their environment as they disrupt and modify the ground's surface by creating foraging pits or burrows. Extensive disturbance to the soil and litter layer changes litter distribution and availability, potentially altering fuel loads. In many landscapes, including periā€urban areas, fire management to reduce fuel loads is complex and challenging. The reintroduction of previously common digging animals, many of which are now threatened, may have the added benefit of reducing fuel loads. We experimentally examined how the reintroduction of a marsupial bandicoot, quenda (Isoodon fusciventer), altered surface fuel loads in an urban bush reserve in Perth, Western Australia. Foraging activities of quenda (where they dig for subterranean food) were substantial throughout the reserve, creating a visibly patchy distribution in surface litter. Further, in open plots where quenda had access, compared to fenced plots where quenda were excluded, quenda foraging significantly reduced litter cover and litter depth. Similarly, estimated surface fuel loads were nearly halved in open plots where quenda foraged compared to fenced plots where quenda were absent (3.6 cf. 6.4 Mg/ha). Fire behavior modeling, using the estimated surface fuel loads, indicated the predicted rate of spread of fire were significantly lower for open plots where quenda foraged compared to fenced plots under both low (29.2 cf. 51.4 m/h; total fuels) and high (74.3 cf. 130.4 m/h; total fuels) fire conditions. Although many environments require fire, including the bushland where this study occurred, fire management can be a considerable challenge in many landscapes, including urban bushland reserves, which are usually small and close to human infrastructure. The reintroduction of previously common digging species may have potential value as a complimentary tool for reducing fuel loads, and potentially, fire risk.

Bioturbation by a reintroduced digging mammal reduces fuel loads in an urban reserve 4.1.7 Bioturbation By A Reintroduced Digging Mammal Reduces Fuel Loads In An Urban Reserve