Terrestrial mammal use of artificial Habitat Pods designed for burnt environments
Australia’s remaining ground-dwelling mammal species are increasingly threatened by the extensive loss of understory vegetation associated with intensifying fire regimes. We field-tested the potential for an artificial refuge structure (The Habitat Pod) to support these species (hereafter “Prey”) within burnt environments. The impacts of Habitat Pods on fauna were assessed by implementing a BACI experimental design within a recently burnt area of the Hawkesbury River catchment, completed across 24 sites over 21 weeks. Animal interactions with the Habitat Pods, and the effects of Habitat Pods on microclimates were also assessed. My major finding was that prey readily interacted with Habitat Pods, which were likely perceived as sheltered runways, and that the design was suitable for deployment into burnt environments. I did not detect a significant influence of the Habitat Pods on overall fauna activity, but this was likely due to the low density of Pods distributed, and large inter-site variability. This project highlighted the challenges prey face within burnt environments, where I confirmed there was less understory, fewer natural refuges, and higher predator activity. This project highlighted the great potential for artificial refuges to support ground-dwelling prey within burnt environments. Future research could deploy a higher number of Habitat Pods and aim to deploy Pods much sooner after a burn. Further research should also address whether Habitat Pods directly increase prey survival, leading to higher population persistence in burnt areas.