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Effects of a low intensity fire on populations of pond breeding anurans in mid-northern New South Wales, Australia

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image of Applied Herpetology

Low intensity burns within and adjacent to Chaelundi State Forest prompted comparisons of pre- and post-fire frog counts for six burnt and six unburnt pond areas. We used a before-and-after control/impact (BACI) approach to assess whether changes in total frog numbers, number of species and numbers of individuals of five common species varied significantly between the burnt and unburnt sites. Additionally, time since last fire, fire scar height from last fire and maximum fire scar height from any fire were scored for the vegetation surrounding 17 ponds in the area, and compared to frog counts obtained in November 2001. In the BACI study, the only significant source of variation for all analyses was found between the within-season counts, which could be extremely variable. Season, fire and the season × fire interaction were not significant. A Spearman Rank Correlation found no significant associations between counts and fire measurements for the 17 ponds. A review of the confidence intervals of our data revealed a low power to detect any effects because within-season counts varied so greatly. We estimate that a change of six species or 12 frogs per site would be needed to obtain a statistically significant result with the type of data collected. We recommend that effort in any future studies be directed to obtaining a much greater number of repeat counts per site/replicate sites, if such variation were to occur. Another possibility may be the strict control of the timing of surveys to within specific environmental conditions (e.g., temperatures between 18 and 22°C, and/or rainfall between 10 and 30 mm in the previous 72 hours). Such an approach may reduce variation to more manageable levels. The low intensity fire studied did not result in severe changes in frog numbers, but the presence of moderate changes or more subtle long-term changes cannot be discounted.


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