How do birds respond to wildfire and prescribed burning in Victoria’s foothills forests?

IMG_4172Bird (Australian King-Parrot) watching at Big River State Forest. Photo by Teresa Hu.

Fire management is often driven by protection of human life and property, sometimes at the expense of biodiversity conservation. However, inappropriate fire regimes are a major threat to biodiversity, and have led to the decline of many Australian bird species. There is an urgent need to determine the effects of fire and prescribed burning targets on species to inform fire management decisions.

The aim of my project was to explore how bird populations respond to fires and to determine the effects of prescribed burning on bird communities in foothills forest of Victoria. In this project, I modelled the responses of birds to two aspects of the fire regime in foothills forest, assessed the difference between two bird survey methods in the post-fire environment and quantified the effects of prescribed burning on bird biodiversity in forest landscapes.

The findings from my research demonstrated that birds prefer long unburnt vegetation and longer fire intervals, automated recording devices detected more bird species than point counts and large-scale and frequent prescribed burning had an negative effect on bird communities in foothills forest.

My study emphasizes the importance of considering biodiversity conservation objectives when managing fire in forest landscapes. The results from my research on bird response to fire can be used to inform trade-offs between multiple objectives and aid fire management and decision-making.

My  masters thesis was titled “Modelling bird responses to wildfire and prescribed burning in foothills forests”. This project was supervised by Professor Michael McCarthy, Dr Luke Kelly, Dr Karen Rowe and funded by the Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award.