Sarsha Gorissen(A,B), Matthew Greenlees(A) and Richard Shine(A)
(A) School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.
(B) Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]
Intense fire is a key threatening process for the endangered Blue Mountains water skink, Eulamprus leuraensis.
This species is restricted to isolated, densely vegetated and waterlogged peat swamps in montane southeastern Australia.
Wesurveyed 11 swamps (5 unburnt, 6 burnt) over 2 years, before and after the intense spring bushfires of 2013, to quantify the fires’ impacts on these skinks, other lizards and the habitat upon which they depend.
Trapping revealed no direct effect of fire on E. leuraensis populations, with skinks persisting in all burnt swamps.
Fire modified ground vegetation, virtually eliminating live plants and the dense understorey.
Despite the conflagration, vegetation regrowth was rapid with swamp habitat largely recovering in just over 1 year post-fire.
Fire thus had only a transitory effect on lizard habitat and a non-significant impact on E. leuraensis numbers.
Nonetheless, broader-scale analyses suggest a different story: skinks were more abundant in swamps that had experienced a longer time since major fire.
Although the ability of this endangered reptile to survive even intense wildfires is encouraging, fire during prolonged dry periods or an intensified fire regime might imperil skink populations.
Additional keywords: biodiversity, ecosystems: temperate, fire frequency, fire regimes.
Received 14 March 2017, accepted 13 May 2018, published online 4 June 2018