Niche construction and Dreaming logic: Aboriginal patch mosaic burning and varanid lizards (Varanus gouldii) in Australia

Rebecca Bliege Bird, Nyalangka Tayor, Brian F. Codding, Douglas W. Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

61 Scopus citations

Abstract

Anthropogenic fire is a form of ecosystem engineering that creates greater landscape patchiness at small spatial scales: such rescaling of patch diversity through mosaic burning has been argued to be a form of niche construction, the loss of which may have precipitated the decline and extinction of many endemic species in theWestern Desert of Australia.We find evidence to support this hypothesis relative to one keystone species, the sand monitor lizard (Varanus gouldii). Paradoxically, V. gouldii populations are higher where Aboriginal hunting is most intense. This effect is driven by an increase in V. gouldii densities near successional edges, which is higher in landscapes that experience extensive human burning. Over time, the positive effects of patch mosaic burning while hunting overwhelm the negative effects of predation in recently burned areas to produce overall positive impacts on lizard populations. These results offer critical insights into the maintenance of animal communities in the desert, supporting the hypothesis that the current high rate of endemic species decline among small animals may be linked to the interaction between invasive species and mid-century removal of Aboriginal niche construction through hunting and patch mosaic burning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20132297
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume280
Issue number1772
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 23 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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