Pereoglou, Felicia; MacGregor, Chris; Banks, Samuel; Ford, Fred Dr; Wood, Jeffrey; Lindenmayer, David B
Context Temporal reduction in shelter is an indirect primary impact of fire. Removal of animal refugia has implications for shelter site selection and fidelity factors that have been largely overlooked in studies of Australian rodent fauna. This information is critical for guiding species conservation and appropriate land management including prescribed burning practices. Aims We sought to determine which features of burnt heath were selected as shelter sites by the eastern chestnut mouse,...[Show more] whether there was sex and/or seasonal variation in shelter site selection and whether we could identify primary refugia. Methods We completed a radio-telemetry study to identify diurnal refuge sites and compare habitat attributes with those of a matched set of control sites. We then used habitat features and fidelity parameters to classify refuge site use. Key results We found the eastern chestnut mouse selected shelters with the presence of specific structures and had taller, denser vegetation than randomly selected control sites. There were no differences in habitat selection between the sexes. Shelter sites in the non-breeding season had greater vegetation density compared with those used in the breeding season. In the breeding season, the eastern chestnut mouse showed no evidence of increased fidelity to particular refuges. Vegetation density in winter was the best predictor of a primary refuge compared with whether or not an animal returned to a shelter site or the amount of time spent in a shelter site. Mice were ephemeral and non-gregarious in their refuge use. There was some evidence for inheritance of refuge sites from a parent, as well as inter-season shelter site fidelity. Conclusions The eastern chestnut mouse selected refugia that had habitat attributes offering maximum protection. Seasonality in refuge site selection is likely to reflect the reproductive and environmental trade-offs in critical resources during different seasons. The maintenance of multiple, rarely occupied shelters by the eastern chestnut mouse is consistent with data for other mammals. Implications Fire management should ensure retention of vegetation structure on the ground layer, dense habitat patches in burned areas, and be carefully planned during the winter season to maintain shelter and refuge sites to assist population persistence.
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