Hunter, hunted: when the world catches on fire, how do predators respond?



Some predators, including red foxes, move into burnt areas after fires pass through.
Alexandre Roux/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Ayesha Tulloch, University of Sydney; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University; Tim Doherty, Deakin University, and William Geary, Deakin University

2019 might well be remembered as the year the world caught fire. Some 2.9 million hectares of eastern Australia have been incinerated in the past few months, an area roughly the same size as Belgium. Fires in the Amazon, the Arctic, and California captured global attention.

As climate change continues, large, intense, and severe fires will become more common. But what does this mean for the animals living in fire-prone environments?




Read more:
Drought and climate change were the kindling, and now the east coast is ablaze


Our new research, published recently in the Journal of Animal Ecology, looked at studies from around the world to identify how predators respond to fire.

We found some species seem to benefit from fires, others appear to be vulnerable, and some seem indifferent. In a changing climate, it’s urgent we understand how fires affect predators – and hence potentially their prey –in order to keep ecosystems healthy.

Predators: the good and the bad

Large predators, like wolves and lions, often play important roles in ecosystems, regulating food webs by reducing the numbers or changing the behaviour of herbivores and smaller predators. Many large predators are in dire straits within their native range, while introduced predators, such as feral cats and red foxes, have spread to new regions, where they have devastated native wildlife .

Fires can offer new opportunities as well as problems to predators. Some predators take advantage of charred, more open landscapes to hunt vulnerable prey; others rely on thick vegetation to launch an ambush.

But until now, we have not known which predators are drawn to fire, which are repelled by it, and which don’t care either way. Synthesising information on how different kinds of predators (for example, large or small, pursuit or ambush) respond to fire is vital for both the conservation of top predators and to help protect native prey from introduced predators.

Predators are reacting differently to fire.
Adam Stevenson/Reuters

Some like it hot

Our research reviewed studies from around the world to identify how different vertebrate predators (birds, mammals and reptiles) respond to fire in different ecosystems.

We found 160 studies on the response of 188 predator species to fire, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, cats, hawks, owls, goannas and snakes, amongst others. The studies came from 20 different countries, although most were from North America or Australia, and focused on canine and feline species.

Some predators seem to like fire: they are more abundant, or spend more time in, recently burnt areas than areas that escape fire. Our review found red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) mostly responded positively to fire and become more active in burned areas.

Raptors have even been observed in Northern Australia carrying burning sticks, helping to spread fire and targeting prey as they flee the fire.

For other predators, fire is bad news. Following Californian wildfires, numbers of eastern racer snakes fell in burnt areas. Likewise, lions avoid recently burned areas, because they rely on dense vegetation from which to ambush prey.

A global summary of studies examining predators and fire.

The authors of the papers we reviewed thought food availability, vegetation cover, and competition with other predators were the most important things affecting species’ responses to fire.

But perhaps more surprising was that most species, including bobcats and the striped skunk, appeared largely unaffected by fire. Of the affected species, some (such as spotted owls) responded differently to fire in different places.

Overall, we found it is difficult to predict how a predator species will respond to fire.

We still have a lot to learn

Our results show while many predators appear to adapt to the changes that fires bring about, some species are impacted by fire, both negatively and positively. The problem is that, with a few exceptions, we will struggle to know how a given fire will affect a predator species without local knowledge. This means environmental managers need to monitor the local outcomes of fire management, such as fuel reduction burns.

There may be situations in which predator management needs to be coupled with fire management to help prevent native wildlife becoming fox food after fire. There has even been trials to see if artificial shelters can help protect native wildlife from introduced predators after fire.

Getting our knowledge base right

One thing that has hampered our research is the lack of contextual information in many studies. No two fires are the same – they differ in size, intensity, severity, and season – but these details are often absent. The literature is also biased towards dog-like and cat species, and there are few studies on the response of predators to fire in Africa, Asia, and South America.

It is important to note that some predator responses to fire may be overlooked due to the way experiments were carried out, or because monitoring happened too long after the fire.

Unifying how fire, predator numbers and environmental features are recorded would help future studies predict how predators might react to different types of fires in various situations.




Read more:
Bushfires are pushing species towards extinction


As wildfires become more frequent and severe under climate change, understanding how fire intensity and frequency shapes predator populations and their prey will be critical for effective and informed ecosystem management and conservation.The Conversation

Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University; Ayesha Tulloch, DECRA Research Fellow, University of Sydney; Dale Nimmo, Associate professor/ARC DECRA fellow, Charles Sturt University; Tim Doherty, Alfred Deakin Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University, and William Geary, , Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Curious Kids: how do magpies detect worms and other food underground?



Magpies have a few clever tricks to help them find food.
Gisela Kaplan, Author provided

Gisela Kaplan, University of New England


How do magpies detect worms and other food sources underground? I often see them look or listen, then rapidly hop across the ground and start digging with their beak and extract a worm or bug from the earth – Catherine, age 10, Perth.



You have posed a very good question.

Foraging for food can involve sight, hearing and even smell. In almost all cases learning is involved. Magpies are ground foragers, setting one foot before the other looking for food while walking, called walk-foraging. It looks like this:

This is called walk-foraging.
Gisela Kaplan, Author provided

Finding food on the ground, such as beetles and other insects, is not as easy as it may sound. The ground can be uneven and covered with leaves, grasses and rocks. Insects may be hiding, camouflaged, or staying so still it is hard for a magpie to notice them.




Read more:
Curious Kids: why is a magpie’s poo black and white?


Detecting a small object on the ground requires keen vision and experience, to discriminate between the parts that are important and those that are not.

Magpie eyes, as for most birds, are on the side of the head (humans and other birds of prey, by contrast, have eyes that face forward).

A magpie’s eyes are at the side of its head and it can only see something with both eyes if that is straight in front of the bird.
Shutterstock/Webb Photography

To see a small area in front of them, close to the ground, birds use both eyes together (scientists call this binocular vision). But birds mostly see via the eyes looking out to the side (which is called monocular vision).

This picture gives you an idea of what a magpie can see with its left eye, what it can see with its right eye and what area it can see with both eyes working together (binocular vision).

Here’s how a magpie’s field of vision works.
Gisela Kaplan, Author provided

You asked about underground foraging. Some of that foraging can also be done by sight. Worms, for instance, may leave a small mound (called a cast) on the surface and, to the experienced bird, this indicates that a worm is just below.

Magpies can also go a huge step further. They can identify big scarab larvae underground without any visual help at all.

Here is a scarab larva.
Gisela Kaplan, Author provided

Scarab larvae look like grubs. They munch on grassroots and can kill entire grazing fields. Once they transform into beetles (commonly called Christmas beetles) they can do even more damage by eating all the leaves off eucalyptus trees.

Here is the secret: magpies have such good hearing, they can hear the very faint sound of grass roots being chewed.

We know this from experiments using small speakers under the soil playing back recorded sounds of scarab beetle larvae. Magpies located the speaker every time and dug it up.

An Australian magpie digging for food in a lawn.
Flickr/Lance, CC BY-NC-ND

So how do they do it? Several movements are involved.

To make certain that a jab with its beak will hit the exact spot where the juicy grub is, the magpie first walks slowly and scans the ground. It then stops and looks closely at the ground – seemingly with both eyes working together.

Then, holding absolutely still, the magpie turns its head so the left side of the head and ear is close to the ground for a final confirming listen.

Finally, the bird straightens up, then executes a powerful jab into the ground before retrieving the grub.

An Australian magpie digging for food gets a grub.
Wikimedia/Toby Hudson, CC BY-SA

That is very clever of the magpies. Very few animals can extract food they can’t see. Only great apes and humans were thought to have this ability. Clever magpies indeed. And farmers love them for keeping a major pest under control.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why do birds sing?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.auThe Conversation

Gisela Kaplan, Emeritus Professor in Animal Behaviour, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

#travelgram: live tourist snaps have turned solo adventures into social occasions



If you didn’t post it, did it even happen?
Shutterstock

Michael James Walsh, University of Canberra; Naomi F Dale, University of Canberra, and Raechel Johns, University of Canberra

In the years since selfie sticks went global, it has become clear that the mobile phone has changed the way we travel.
The ubiquity of social media means tourists can now produce content on the move for their networked audiences to view in close to real time.

Where once we shared slideshows post trip and saved prints and postcards as keepsakes, we now share holiday images and selfies from the road, sea or air — expanding the “tourist gaze” from the traveller to include remote audiences back home.




Read more:
#MeTourism: the hidden costs of selfie tourism


Instagram-worthy

Travelling has gone from a solitary quest to a “social occasion”. As such, gazing is becoming inseparably linked with photography. Taking photos has become habitual, rendering the camera as a way of seeing and experiencing new places.

Travellers take selfies that present both locations and people in aesthetically pleasing and positive ways.

Indeed, the “instagrammability” of a destination is a key motivation for younger people to travel there – even if filters and mirrors have been used to create a less than realistic image.

This transforms the relationship between travellers and their social networks in three important ways: between tourists and destination hosts; between fellow tourists; and lastly, between tourists and those that stay home.

The urge to share travel imagery is not without risk. An Australian couple were released from detention in Iran in October, following their arrest for ostensibly flying a drone without a permit.

Other tourists earned derision for scrambling to post selfies at Uluru before it was closed to climbers.

Meanwhile, there is a sad story behind the newly popular travelgram destination Rainbow Mountain in the Peruvian Andes. It has reportedly only recently emerged due to climate change melting its once snowy peaks.

Testing the effects

To understand the way social media photography impacts travelling, we undertook an exploratory study of overnight visitors at zoological accommodation in lavish surrounds.

We divided 12 participants into two groups. One group was directed to abstain from posting on social media but were still able to take photos. The second group had no restrictions on sharing photos. Though the numbers were small, we gathered qualitative information about engagement and attitudes.

Participants were invited to book at Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra. The visit was funded by the researchers — Jamala Wildlife Lodge did not sponsor the research and the interviewees’ stay at the Lodge was a standard visit. We then conducted interviews immediately after their departure from the zoo, critically exploring the full experience of their stay.

The study confirmed that the desire to share travel pictures in close to real time is strongly scripted into the role of the tourist; altering the way travellers engage with sites they are visiting, but also their sense of urgency to communicate this with remote audiences.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Participants Mandy and Amy were among those instructed to refrain from posting pictures to social media while at the zoo. They described having to refrain from social media use as a disappointment, even though it seemed to further their engagement.

Interviewer: Did you look at your social media throughout your stay or did you refrain?

Mandy: A bit yeah. But even then, probably not reading it as much as I often would. I don’t think I commented on anything yeah.

Amy: Even today when we put something up [after staying at the Zoo] about the things we’d done today and only a few people had liked it, there was that little bit of disappointment that ‘Oh more people haven’t liked my post.’ Where we didn’t have that for the previous 24 hours [because of the experiment] … because nobody knew about it.

The tension between capturing and experiencing travel is ever-present.
Shutterstock

The desire for social media recognition resumed after leaving the zoo. For Michelle, posting after the experience presented new concerns:

Interviewer: How did you feel about not being able to post?

Michelle: Spanner in the works! For me personally not being able to post was a negative experience because I wanted to show people what we’re doing, when we’re doing it.

And I also feel, like a couple of people knew we were going to the zoo, right, and knew that we couldn’t use social media. So, when I eventually post it, they’re going to go, ‘She’s been hanging on to those and now she’s posting them and that’s just a bit weird.’ Like, to post it after the event. Everyone normally posts it in real time.

Later, Michelle commented that withholding content from posting to social media also diminished a part of the experience itself:

I sort of feel like if we don’t share the photos it’s like a tree fell down in the forest and no one heard it, like, we’ve had this amazing experience and if I don’t share them, then no one’s going to know that we had this experience, you know, apart from us.

Tips garnered from travelgrammers fill lots of online video tutorials.

Centre Stage

Digital photography and social media transform the relationship between the travelling self and its audience, as individuals have an expanded — and potentially diversified — audience.

Selfies in tourist contexts reflect the tourist gaze back at the tourist, rather than outward.

The perfect digital postcard now incorporates the self centrestage. As one participant suggested:

Shannon: It almost feels like it’s kind of an expected behaviour when you are doing something touristy … We’ve actually had tour guides before … kind of a bit disappointed if you don’t take a photograph.

The purpose of photography has shifted from a memory aid to a way of sharing experience in the moment. There is tension now between the need to capture tourist experiences for digital sharing and individual engagement in the tourist activity. Decrying the desire to use photography as a way of communicating experience will not constructively address this tension.

To ensure tourism sustainability, and engagement with their target market, tourism providers need to explore better ways to manage travellers’ face-to-face and digital engagement.

Digital engagements have become a defining part of travel, and organisations should be encouraged to promote online sharing of experiences — phone charging stations and photo competitions were two suggestions offered by our interviewees.

In contrast, device-free days or activities could be another way to encourage face-to-face engagement and prompt tourists to be more considered with their online sharing.The Conversation

Michael James Walsh, Assistant Professor Social Science, University of Canberra; Naomi F Dale, Associate Professor of Management, University of Canberra, and Raechel Johns, Head of the Canberra Business School and Professor of Marketing and Service Management, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.