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Students awarded QFBC scholarship to undertake research on fire exclusion effects on wildlife and effects on fire fighting retardants on frogs

Each year the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium (QFBC) supports students undertaking Honours, Masters or PhD research in applied fire ecology and/or management. Outcomes from these applied research projects contribute to informing best fire practice. The 2019/20 scholarship was granted to Arianne Allen Southern Cross University - Influence of fire-exclusion on fauna communities in Peachester State Forest, and Kate Tunstill, Griffith University- Effects of firefighting chemicals on endangered Fleay’s barred frog (Mixophyes fleayi) tadpoles 


QFBC's Research Student Scholarship recipient Arianne Allen, Honours Student, Southern Cross University conducting field research into fire exclusion on fauna communities (picture supplied by Arianne Allen)

Influence of fire-exclusion on fauna communities in Peachester State Forest.
Arianne Allen, Honours Student, Southern Cross University
Ecosystems are incredibly diverse, requiring varied applications of fire to maintain community health. Just as fire can change vegetation and fauna compositions, lack of fire can have the same effect. Fire exclusion can change vegetation structure by increasing canopy cover, promoting rainforest invasion and altering fauna species composition.
This has been witnessed at one study site within Peachester State Forest, Queensland, which is transitioning from wet sclerophyll forest to rainforest. As a result of vegetation thickening, mid-storey birds which rely on a clear visual line of sight for prey are affected. 
Although it is well understood that vegetation clearing, fragmentation and predation negatively impact fauna species, the affects of fire-exclusion is not well researched. 
The aim is to investigate how variations in ‘time since fire’ affect fauna composition in a wet sclerophyll forest. Arianne’s study targets comparisons of forest structure, application of fire and how this impacts variations in faunal species, particularly frogs and birds. By analysing vegetation, fauna, sound ecology and fire treatments across twelve sites, the research aims to determine variances that can inform appropriate fire management. It is expected that most fauna data will be from birds, which will help identify preferred vegetation structure and fire treatments. Any frog data will assist frog conservation at the site. Results will help land managers to prioritise appropriate ecological burns to reduce localised extinction of fauna species.

Effects of firefighting chemicals on endangered Fleay’s barred frog tadpoles 
Kate Tunstill, Honours Student, Griffith University (Gold Coast)
The ‘Black Summer’ 2019/20 bushfires were extensive and caused the decline of many native species. With climate change, fire frequency and severity is predicted to increase, and with it the use of chemical fire retardants. This combination will put further pressure ecosystem health. Fire retardants are a chemical tool used by firefighters to control or slow bushfires. The most common is the aerially applied PHOS CHek, identifiable by its red colouring. Over the years, awareness around the environmental safety of fire retardants has been increasing, with earlier studies finding that previous fire chemicals were hazardous to ecosystems. To date, insufficient research has been conducted on the affects of current retardants on aquatic species, especially amphibians. Owing to their permeable skin and dependance on aquatic environments, amphibians are particular vulnerable to changes in water quality and therefore good indicators of ecosystem health. 
Kate’s study aims to understand the impacts PHOS Chek on the endangered Fleay’s barred frog (Mixophyes fleayi) of South-East Queensland. Restricted to fragmented mountain-top environments, this species is vulnerable to bushfire and therefore toxins from fire retardants.  A series of controlled laboratory exposure challenge experiments will be conducted to test the effects of toxins on tadpole metamorphic and behavioural changes. GIS mapping will be used to visually compare the impacts of fire and chemically treated areas on species distribution. It is expected that the results will encourage the development of more environmentally friendly fire retardants and inform policy and practice.


Written by Lisa Boyle QFBC Intern 
Update:16 February 2021

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