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Short-term effects of low intensity fire on soil macroinvertebrate assemblages in different vegetation patch types in an Australian tropical savanna

Austral ecology 2007 v.32 no.6 pp. 663-668
Araneae, Isoptera, burning, dry season, ecosystem engineers, fire intensity, fires, fuel loading, land management, macroinvertebrates, risk, savannas, soil, water reuse
Early dry season fires are a common land management regime employed across the tropical savannas of northern Australia. The rationale is that this reduces fuel loads and so reduces fire risk in the latter part of the dry season. Despite the acceptance of fire as a major management tool the ecological effects of fire remain uncertain. Vegetation patches and their associated macroinvertebrates play a critical role in the capture and recycling of water and nutrients. The aim of this study was to examine the responses of soil macroinvertebrates, within different types of vegetation patches, to early dry season fires in tropical savanna woodland in northern Australia. The abundance of major macroinvertebrate taxa and functional groups, and taxon richness were quantified in three vegetation patch types 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after burning. Termites dominated the soil macroinvertebrate assemblage sampled. Fire led to significant decreases in ant and spider abundances and overall taxon richness. Functional group analyses showed significant overall declines in the abundances of macropredators and litter transformers. There were also interactions between fire and patch type; in tree patches, fire significantly reduced total macroinvertebrate abundance, as well as the abundance of termites and ecosystem engineers. These changes in soil macroinvertebrates will potentially influence patch functionality, with important implications for soil processes and landscape health.