Reptile Responses to Artificial Refuges and Fire Cues in Post-Fire Environments
Australia’s woodland ecosystems are subject to bushfires which cause considerable short-term disturbance to understory habitats. For ground-dwelling reptiles in fire-affected ecosystems, population persistence is contingent on surviving these post-fire environmental changes. Human factors such as climate change and introduced feral predators have increased the frequency and severity of these events, amplifying the potential for negative impacts on wildlife during and after fires. As a result, active management will be increasingly needed to conserve wildlife populations affected by fire. In this thesis, I examine how an artificial refuge design, the ‘Habitat Pod’, influences the diversity, number of detections, and behaviour of ground-dwelling reptiles in post-fire environments. In the field component of my work (Chapter 1) I detected greater numbers of small leaf-litter dwelling skinks at burnt sites with Habitat Pods added. I also found the internal refuge spaces buffered from extreme temperatures while the external spaces created a moderate hot spot. In the captive component for my work (Chapter 2) I found that lizards in simulated post-fire environments increased their emergence and foraging behaviour, suggesting they had behavioural adaptations to post-fire survival. My research shows that the Habitat Pod provides benefits to reptiles in post-fire environments, however, effects may be species-specific.