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How fire can save ground-dwelling birds? Scientists say it is crucial for the survival of the Eastern bristlebird

Posted March 12, 2018

Wild fires are a scary thing. Many people lose their possessions and sometimes even more. Fire-fighters have to combat these fires to manage them and deter them from human settlements. However, sometimes fires are good and necessary. Scientists from the University of Queensland say that well-managed fire regimens are crucial for the survival of the Eastern bristlebird.

The Eastern bristlebird spends the majority of its day on the ground in wet, grassy patches in the forest. Image credit: ZSLEDGETV via Youtube

The Eastern bristlebird is one of Australia’s most melodic songbirds, but not everyone knows that South-East Queensland is about to lose them. These small birds live in large patches of grassy, eucalypt forest and are basically ground-dwelling. They are known for their beautiful songs, but even locals are unaware that their populations are quickly declining. For example, the isolated northern-most population had declined to fewer than 40 birds. Scientists estimate that only three Eastern bristlebird populations remain in eastern Australia. These little birds are very close to extinction and now scientists are trying to figure out why.

Of course, as usual, the reason why the Eastern bristlebird is in danger is changes of the habitat. These largely ground-dwelling songbirds need grassy forest patches within the wet forest. That is where they find shelter and food. But you would be surprised to know what is destroying these grassy patches in wet forests – it is weeds. As grass overgrows, these little grassy patches become uninhabitable for these birds. Zoe Stone, researcher from the University of Queensland, said: “For a largely ground-dwelling species, the presence of tall, thick grasses provides important shelter for foraging and nesting activities. Use of appropriate fire regimens is absolutely critical for the continued persistence and successful reintroduction of this extremely rare bird”.

And so, there are two major tools to save the Eastern bristlebird – reintroduction and appropriate fire management. The latter seems counter-intuitive as fire may destroy the habitats of these birds. However, well-managed fires destroy over-grown weeds and stay away from patches that are suitable for Eastern bristlebirds.  Managed wild-fires are used around the world. Natural fires, starting from lightning, have been shaping the landscape for thousands of years and humans have interrupted this process somewhat with their farming practices.

The Eastern bristlebird is famous for its singing. Hopefully, scientists will manage to save this bird from extinction and forests in South-East Queensland will be filled with its beautiful songs for years.


Source: University of Queensland

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