E&E PhD Exit Seminar: Trials by fire: investigating fire response, post-fire recovery mechanisms, demography and landscape connectivity in an Australian native rodent

Genetic diversity is a key component of biodiversity, underpinning the fitness of individuals and the ability of species to adapt to environmental change. At the population-level, social, demographic and ecological processes are important in shaping patterns of genetic diversity. Furthermore, the patterns of genetic diversity can also reveal insights into the biology of species and the response of populations to ecological disturbance. In northern Australia, small mammal populations are currently collapsing. This is due, in part, to the interaction between altered fire regimes and other key threats. Therefore, in order to better understand the mechanisms underlying this decline, I have combined ecological and genetic studies to investigate the demography, fire response and post-fire population recovery in a vulnerable native Australian rodent, the pale field-rat (Rattus tunneyi), in the central Kimberley region of Western Australia. By combining a replicated fire experiment, a capture-mark-recapture study and a genetic study, I show that spatial recovery processes differ with the extent of the experimental burns. This suggests that fire management strategies that reduce the incidence of extensive wildfires and increase fine-grained patchiness will better facilitate population recovery of vulnerable small mammal species through in situ survival within unburnt refuges. Furthermore, landscape genetic results suggest that populations in such disturbance-prone environments are highly variable, reflecting the dynamic savanna landscape they inhabit.