Animals of all shapes and sizes, from the largest kangaroo to the tiniest insect, depend on resources from their environments for food, shelter and areas to reproduce. Fire is an extremely effective force in both destroying and recreating these resources and changing the patterns, places and times that they occur.

  • Animals like the red-bellied frog retreat underground to avoid desiccation.
    Photo © Parks and Wildlife
  • Kangaroos prefer the sweet green pick that sprouts soon after fire.
    Photo © Parks and Wildlife

Animals also have adapted to survive and persist in fire-prone environments. Some animals are mobile and can move out of the path of a fire. Others are able to burrow, climb or take refuge in hollows and other sheltered sites.

Low intensity fire pattern which leaves patches unburnt for food and habitat.
Low intensity fire pattern which leaves
patches unburnt for food and habitat.
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

However, fire can kill or injure many individual animals, particularly if the fire is of a high intensity and extensive. Some animals will be killed directly by the fire or by smoke inhalation. Others will die shortly afterwards due to predation by other species or through starvation due to lack of food and cover. After a fire, the occurrence and abundance of animals is dependent on the intensity and size of the fire and the rate at which the vegetation recovers. Animals recover quickly following low intensity, patchy fires but are slower to recover following high intensity large fires that burn the entire landscape. Higher intensity fire leads to more uniform burning and lower habitat diversity.

Fire affects fauna distribution and occurrence because it burns fauna habitat. Some animals, such as kangaroos and brush wallabies, prefer recently burnt vegetation, whereas as others, such as honey possums and mardos, prefer longer unburnt vegetation. Other species occur in a variety of ages. Some animals, like the mainland quokka, prefer a specific fire regime. Parks and Wildlife scientists have conducted vast research on fire ecology and fire management.

 

Quokkas and fire
Low intensity fire pattern which leaves patches unburnt for food and habitat.
A quokka in the south-west forests.
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

Mainland quokkas benefit from carefully applied prescribed fire to assist their conservation and survival. They occur in WA’s south-west forests, preferring long unburnt, dense vegetation for shelter. This type of vegetation usually exists between five and 20 years after fire. Quokkas also need areas of younger vegetation nearby for feeding, which is usually found in areas where fire has occurred less than five years ago. If the vegetation is not rejuvenated after about 20 years it begins to collapse and become sparse, creating areas that quokkas avoid. Quokkas prefer a mosaic of old and young vegetation in order to persist. Controlling predators such as the fox, together with good fire management, will maintain healthy quokka populations on the mainland.