Contemporary fire patterns are considered the most likely cause for regional population decline amongst small to medium mammals in northern tropical Australia. Here we assess the extinction risk faced by a vulnerable north Australian native rodent, the Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat Conilurus penicillatus in relation to fire frequency. This species has recently suffered a significant contraction in range. We provide the first quantitative evidence to demonstrate the immediate threat destructive wildfires and regular annual fire pose to the long-term population persistence of C. penicillatus . We show that late-dry season fires cause a reduction in both juvenile and adult survival probabilities. However, abundance declined at the unburnt as well as a frequently burnt site, suggesting that fire exclusion alone does not guarantee the species’ long-term persistence. Our model projections indicate that the remaining populations of C. penicillatus on the Northern Territory mainland risk extirpation within the next ten years. Conservation requires decisive management action to ameliorate extensive and destructive fires. A multi-faceted management plan needs to focus on restoring a fire management regime which generates a fine-scale mosaic of burnt and unburnt habitat, and the release of captive bred animals into fenced reserves free of exotic predators.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2010
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