Two acclaimed experts from the Australian National University have warned of the after-effects of bushfires on fire-damaged habitat and rare insect species that may become extinct.
Member of the Australian Entomological Society’s Conservation Committee and Associate Professor at the ANU Michael Braby says the bushfires will have a huge impact on native insects, as well as the plants and animals that rely on them.
Professor David Lindenmayer from the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society said trees and half-burnt logs left behind by fire are a valuable habitat for recovering wildlife.
Associate Professor Braby said the severity and extent of the current fires mean insects would have few, in any, refuges for survival.
“Sadly, few insects have strategies to escape a fire,” he said. “This means most are killed in the event of a bushfire, and their recovery relies on recolonisation from unburnt areas.
“Many species may well go extinct, especially rare species, or those with specialised requirements, such as specific host plants.”
Associate Professor Braby said human-induced climate change is the overriding factor responsible for the unprecedented scale of these fires.
“More action needs to be taken at the national and international level to prevent further climate change,” Associate Professor Braby said.
He said surveys are also needed to determine the extent of loss and plan the recovery of insect species, which help break down nutrients after fires.
“We’d also suggest the total area of protected habitats – like national parks – needs to increase in order to mitigate these losses.”
Professor Lindenmayer has studied the recovery of wildlife after the Black Saturday fires in 2009 and major fires in coastal NSW in 2003. He has more than 35 years of experience researching the effect of fire on Australian wildlife and ecosystems.
He said small unburnt patches, half-burnt logs and dead or fire-damaged trees are commonly left behind after a bushfire.
“Our research has demonstrated that these patches and remaining woody debris are very important to recovering wildlife populations.
“The unburnt patches and surrounding unburnt areas are an important source of animals to repopulate burnt areas and they also offer essential food and shelter until burnt areas recover,” Professor Lindenmayer said.
“It is important to protect any of these remaining patches by not clearing them, and ideally to manage pest animals and weeds around these areas.”
He said dead trees and fallen logs provide many resources to surviving and recovering wildlife such as food, shelter and breeding hollows.
“Many trees that look dead will still be alive. In the months ahead, buds will sprout from under the blackened bark.
“Of course where something is a hazard, like a dead tree close to a road, the hazard needs to be managed, but this could involve felling the tree and leaving it onsite for the benefit of wildlife.
“At a time when habitat is so scarce, practices like burning or mulching remaining timber, salvage logging and mop-up burning rob landscapes of the features that wildlife will need to recover,” Professor Lindenmayer said.
“We have found that when burnt areas contain small unburnt patches, even as small as a single surviving tree, it helps an area recover much faster.”