Impact of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in southwest Australia: a case study for developing a community-based model in adaptive management

jennifer L. Lavers, Genevieve R. Carey, David R. Guilfoyle, Ron Reynolds

Traditional burning regimes have long been employed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate high-intensity wildfires. The link between changes in the distribution, success, and timing of breeding in seabirds and climatic and oceanographic variation in the marine environment has been established, with migratory seabirds less able to respond to climate variability than resident species. While climate-driven changes can also occur on seabird breeding islands, few data are available regarding potential impacts. Here we investigate the frequency and severity of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in Western Australia, regarding the 2020 fire on Figure of Eight Island in the Recherche Archipelago. A lack of quantitative, historical surveys limited our ability to quantify the number of shearwaters lost in this event. However, a review of available data suggests thousands of birds die due to burning every one or two years across the Archipelago. On Figure of Eight, shearwater burrow occupancy and density were low 12 months post-burn (0.25 and 0.02 ± 0.03, respectively), with minimal evidence of recovery (very few burrows detected) 23 months post-burn. We discuss opportunities to develop an adaptive, community-based program for reinstating collaborative, cultural methods of fire management and monitoring regimes on seabird breeding islands in Australia.