Use prescribed burning: Wetland
Overall effectiveness category Awaiting assessment
Number of studies: 2
Background information and definitions
Fire is an integral part of the management and natural dynamics of some ecosystems. Some habitats are naturally fire-prone, and others have been shaped by long-term use of prescribed burning (Bowman 1998). Prescribed burns are undertaken to reduce the amount of combustible fuel in an attempt to reduce the risk of more extensive, potentially more damaging, ‘wildfires’. They may also be used in the maintenance or restoration of habitats historically subject to occasional wildfires that have been suppressed through management or with the expressed purpose of enhancing wildlife habitat (Russell et al. 1999). Whilst burning can have a dramatic effect on the landscape, reducing cover and short-term food resources, the intensity of the fire may influence the response of reptiles to the prescribed burn–low-intensity fires may reduce shelters and prey availability while high-intensity fires may increase prey food items but reduce over wintering sites (Pearson et al. 2005). The impact of prescribed burning on habitats and their associated reptile populations are likely to vary depending on whether the vegetation is dominated by woody species, or by grasses and other herbaceous plants. As such, the impact of prescribed burning on reptile populations may vary in different habitats.
For studies that assess the affect of burning in combination with other actions see Use prescribed burning in combination with vegetation cutting; Use prescribed burning in combination with herbicide application and Use prescribed burning in combination with grazing.
Bowman D.M.J.S. (1998) Tansley Review No. 101. The impact of Aboriginal landscape burning on the Australian biota. New Phytologist, 140, 385–410.
Pearson D., Shine R. & Williams A. (2005) Spatial ecology of a threatened python (Morelia spilota imbricata) and the effects of anthropogenic habitat change. Austral Ecology, 30, 261–274.
Russell K.R., van Lear D.H., & Guynn Jr D.C. (1999) Prescribed fire effects on herpetofauna: Review and management implications. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 27, 374–384.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A controlled study in 2005–2010 in a mixed coastal wetland, grass and scrubland and woodland habitat in California, USA (Thompson et al. 2013) found that four years after prescribed burning, western yellow-bellied racer snake Coluber constrictor mormon abundance was lower in burned than unburned sites, but that abundance was similar in burned and unburned sites from five years after burning took place. Four years after prescribed burning, western yellow-bellied racer snake abundance was lower (2008: 17 snakes/trap array) compared to unburned sites (49). In the fifth and sixth years after burning, snake abundance was similar in burned and unburned sites (2009 burned: 16 snakes/trap array vs. unburned: 25; 2010 burned: 19 vs. unburned: 30). Prescribed burns were carried out in a 213 ha area in autumn 2005 (64 ha) and 2006 (67 ha). Reptiles were surveyed in burned and adjacent unburned areas using traps, observation and coverboards. Traps were set in March–August 2007–2010 (277–1,140 trap days/year). Caught snakes (692 total individuals) were individually marked using PIT tags. Too few individuals were caught in the 2006 burn site to be included in analysis.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2004–2006 in a seasonal wetland in Queensland, Australia (Bower et al. 2014) found that overall reptile and amphibian abundances were not affected by burning to remove invasive non-native para grass Urochloa mutica, but that the abundance of one skink species Lampropholis delicata was reduced in burned areas. When burns were carried out to control non-native para grass, overall reptile and amphibian abundance was similar to unburned plots (results presented as statistical model outputs) but abundance of Lampropholis delicata was lower in burned plots (3 skinks/plot) compared to unburned plots (14 skinks/plot). Para-grass dominated habitat in a conservation park (3,245 ha) was divided into plots (200 x 300 m each) that were either burned or unburned (3 plots/management type). Burning took place in August 2004, September 2005 and November 2006. Reptile and frog communities were sampled four times between 2005–2007 using three pitfall/funnel trap arrays/plot (see original paper for details). Reptiles were individually marked by toe clipping prior to release.Study and other actions tested