Fire ecology projects on Mornington
Endangered Gouldin Finch (Steve Murphy)
Managing fire for the benefit of biodiversity is a priority on Mornington. Our fire management is guided by ecological research, including recommendations generated from the following research projects which are being carried out on Mornington.
The effects of extensive, late dry season fires on fauna: examining the effects of extensive late-dry season fires on vertebrates by comparing the assemblages in unburnt and burnt patches immediately following such a fire.
S.Legge, S.Murphy, J.Heathcote, E.Flaxman, J.Augusteyn and M.Crossman (2008) The short-term effects of an extensive and high-intensity fire on vertebrates in the tropical savannas of the central Kimberley, northern Australia. Wildlife Research, v.35, pp: 33–43).
The effects of prescribed burning on tropical savanna fauna: determining the effects of early-dry season fires and late-dry season fires on survival, ranging behaviour, health and reproductive success of a fire-sensitive species, the Red-backed Fairy-wren.
The effect of fire on spinifex in a monsoonal climate: disentangling the effects of fire, rainfall and geology on the seed yields of spinifex, in order to improve the management of this important resource for seed-eating birds and other fauna. PhD student Graeme Armstrong (Charles Darwin University).
Response of faunal communities to different fire patterns: changes in species richness and overall abundance of mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds are examined through a network of permanent monitoring sites, exposed to different fire patterns, across Mornington.
Why have Gouldian Finches declined so drastically?:
Changes in fires patterns and overgrazing are considered the main contributors to the declines of seed-eating birds. This research project examines the impact of both threats on the population health of seed-eating birds in order to recommend management prescriptions for these declining species.
(AWC, Northern Territory Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport Agency, Charles Darwin University, University of Wollongong. NT Research and Innovation Board, and Birds Australia).
Murphy S, Legge S, Raisbeck-Brown N, 2005. Mornington—A model for fire management in Australia’s tropical savannas. In “Fire and Birds – fire management for biodiversity” Wingspan Supplement Vol 15, No. 3.
Legge S, Murphy S, 2006. Land management for Gouldian finches at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. http://www.landmanager.org.au/index2.html
Legge S, Maute K, 2008. Birds as environmental indicators. Future Country (Australian Agricultural Company Environmental Sustainability Report).
Conservation biology of the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren: Changes in contemporary fire patterns, amongst other causes, have degraded and fragmented PCFW habitat. This project uses molecular genetics to investigate the historical biogeography of PCFW, and the likely effects of habitat loss and degradation on future population dynamics and therefore extinction risk.
PhD student Anja Skroblin (Australian National University).
Threatened Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens
Striped-faced Dunnart (Steve Murphy)
Frilled lizard (Ray Lloyd)
“Since 2004 what we’ve picked up from our detailed monitoring programs at Mornington is that in the areas where we’ve successfully changed fire patterns you get a much better developed grass and shrub layer, and a lot of animals that depend on that grass and shrub layer have increased in abundance. That includes groups like small mammals, quail and button-quail, finches and odd things like spinifex birds. You also see a widening and thickening of creekside vegetation, and then an increase in specialist riparian fauna like Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens and Buff-sided Robins. So we’re pretty convinced that if you can manage fire in a way that reduces the frequency of extensive fire you will see positive effects for biodiversity and that’s really what we’re trying to achieve over the large EcoFire project area”
(Sarah Legge, EcoFire Manager and AWC Conservation and Science Manager).