Use prescribed burning in combination with grazing

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Five studies evaluated the effects of using prescribed burning in combination with grazing on reptile populations. Two studies were in the USA, two were in Australia and one was in Argentina.


  • Richness/diversity (3 studies): One of two studies (including one site comparison study and one replicated, controlled, before-and-after study) in Argentina and the USA found that areas that were burned in combination with grazing had similar reptile species richness and diversity compared to areas not burned or grazed for 3–12 years. The other study found that areas that were burned in combination with grazing had higher species richness than lightly grazed or unmanaged areas and similar richness compared to areas that were burned only. One before-and-after study in the USA found that an area with annual prescribed burning combined with intensive early-season grazing had similar reptile species richness compared to when it was managed by alternate year prescribed burning with season-long grazing.


  • Abundance (3 studies): Two site comparison studies (including one replicated study) in Australia and Argentina found that that burning in combination with grazing had mixed effects on the abundance of reptile species. One replicated, randomized, controlled study in Australia found that areas where invasive para grass was removed by burning in combination with grazing had similar overall reptile and amphibian abundance compared to areas that were only burned or unmanaged. The study also found that the abundance of delicate skinks was lower in areas that were burned and grazed compared to those that were unmanaged.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A before-and-after study in 1989–2003 at a rangeland cattle ranch in Kansas, USA (Wilgers et al. 2006) found that annual prescribed burning combined with intensive early-season grazing resulted in similar reptile species richness compared to alternate year prescribed burning with season-long stocking. Six years after an alternate-year burning combined with season-long stocking regime began, species richness was estimated to be similar (32 species) compared to five years after the start of annual burning combined with intensive early cattle stocking (27 species). Four turtle species, six lizard species and 17 snake species were observed during the study. The authors reported that species loss rates were estimated to be higher following burn years (see paper for details). In 1989–1998, season-long stocking (200 cows with calves, 0.6 animals/ha) was combined with alternate year prescribed burning. On the same site in 1999–2003, intensive-early cattle stocking (650 yearling cattle, 1 animal/ha for 3 months starting in late spring) was combined with annual prescribed burning. In 1989–2003, visual surveys for reptiles were conducted on one day in mid-spring each year along a 4 km transect by turning over rocks and other debris and sighting animals in the open.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 2001 in savanna woodlands in Queensland, Australia (Kutt & Woinarski 2007) found that overall reptile abundance was similar in burned and unburned areas regardless of grazing practices, though the abundance of one of 18 species was higher after burning and of another was lower after burning with grazing. Overall reptile abundance was similar in burned (12–20 individuals/plot) and unburned plots (14–19), regardless of grazing practices. Of 18 species recorded, one dragon species abundance was higher in burned than unburned plots regardless of grazing (central netted dragon Ctenophorus nuchalis burned: 0.7–1.0 individuals/plot; unburned: 0–0.1) and one ctenotus abundance was lower in burned than unburned plots, particularly when burning was combined with grazing (leopard ctenotus Ctenotus pantherinus burned: 0–1.4; unburned: 1.3–4.4). In January 2001, reptiles were monitored on three cattle stations (>20,000 ha each) in 29 one-ha plots that were either grazed (4–8 cattle/ha) or ungrazed (paddocks where cattle were excluded) and either recently burned (within 2 years) or unburned (last burnt >2 years ago). Burns were a mixture of prescribed burns and wildfires and all treatments took place over >2,000 ha areas. Reptiles were sampled using cage traps and pitfalls supplemented by day and night log rolling and litter raking.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A site comparison study in 2006 of cattle pasture in Corrientes, Argentina (Cano & Leynaud 2010) found that overall reptile diversity, species richness and abundance were not significantly different following annual prescribed burning with or without livestock grazing. Overall reptile species richness, abundance and diversity were similar in sites with annual prescribed burning with or without grazing (richness: 4; abundance: 17–44, Shannon diversity index: 1.0–1.1) compared to sites that had not been burned or grazed for three or 12 years (richness: 3–4; abundance: 22–23, Shannon diversity index: 0.8–1.0). Some lizard species (e.g. Kentropyx viridistriga and Teius oculatus) were more abundant in annually burned sites, whereas others (e.g. Mabuya dorsivittata) were more abundant in unburned and ungrazed sites (see original paper for details). The four historical treatments (≥ 400 ha) were: annual prescribed burning (August–September) with or without grazing (3 ha/cattle unit), three years since a prescribed burning, and no fire or grazing for 12 years. Monitoring was undertaken using drift-fencing with pitfall traps in January–April 2006 (80 survey days).

    Study and other actions tested
  4. 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 abundance was not affected by burning, or burning and grazing to remove invasive non-native para grass Urochloa mutica, but that the abundance of one skink species Lampropholis delicata was reduced in burned and grazed and burn only plots. Overall reptile and amphibian abundance was similar in burned and grazed, burned and unmanaged plots (results presented as statistical model outputs). However, abundance of Lampropholis delicata was lower in all managed plots (burned: 3 skinks/plot; grazed: 4 skinks/plot; burned and grazed: 1 skinks/plot) compared to unmanaged plots (14 skinks/plot). Para-grass dominated habitat in a conservation park (3,245 ha) was divided into 12 plots (200 x 300 m each) and each plot was either burned, grazed, burned and grazed, or not managed (3 plots/management type). Burning took place in August 2004, September 2005 and November 2006. Cattle Bos indicus grazing took place after burning in September–December 2004, October–December 2005 and November–December 2006. Stocking levels were calculated to consume 50% of the grass biomass present/plot. 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
  5. A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 2011–2012 in four riparian grasslands in Missouri, USA (Larson 2014) found that prescribed burning with heavy grazing and burning alone increased reptile species richness compared to no management. All results were reported as statistical model outputs. Reptile species richness was slightly higher in burned and grazed or burned plots compared to unmanaged or lightly grazed plots. Six turtles were found dead as a result of fire (two ornate box turtles Terrapene ornata, a western painted turtle Chrysemys picta bellii and three unidentified species). Snake presence was associated with 70–100% grass cover habitat that occurred the year following burning, lizards were associated with burned or burned and heavily grazed plots, and turtles were associated with taller grass heights linked with light grazing. Patches of four watersheds (10–54 ha) were treated with combinations of prescribed burning alone (April 2011 or 2012), or light grazing (May–July 2011 or 2012), or burning followed by heavy grazing (May–July after April burning in 2011 or 2012), or unmanaged during the past five years. Reptile monitoring took place 2–3 times/month in March–May 2011–2012 using coverboards and visual encounter surveys.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

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