Fire can dramatically impact wildlife populations, including extensive mortality and morbidity.1-5 However, secondary effects, such as those on behavior and parasitism, are far less well understood;6-9 furthermore, the interaction of these two – how post-fire changes in movement and behavior affect parasitism – has rarely been studied. This project uses the critically endangered woylie (Bettongia penicillata) to investigate the impact of fire on animal movements and interactions, while simultaneously exploring shifts in parasitism. We expect:
1) reduced parasitism by environmentally-transmitted parasites (e.g., ticks) due to proportionally higher use for foraging of low-parasite (burnt) areas
2) increased parasitism by organisms transmitted via direct contact or asynchronous nest sharing (e.g., fleas, lice), as appropriate nest sites (limited to unburnt areas) become scarcer and sharing increases.
The study site is a fenced reserve in Western Australia, where an intense fire occurred in December 2014. Since the start of 2014, animals have been trapped seasonally, fitted with GPS collars (n=40), and sampled for gastrointestinal, external, and blood-borne parasites. Pre- vs. post-fire comparisons will include: kernel home and nest ranges; habitat use; weighted social networks exploring connections between individuals that reflect different transmission modes (e.g., overlapping home ranges, nest sharing);10 and parasite prevalences with 95% Jeffrey’s confidence intervals. Preliminary pre-fire results indicate variable parasite prevalences, ranging from 0% (0-4.34%) for fleas to 64.86% (48.83-78.67%) for lice. Other results are pending; changes in parasitism and movement patterns in the first five months after the fire will be detailed. Understanding how fire impacts wildlife behavior and parasitism can aid conservationists in determining appropriate fire management and response schemes; it is particularly relevant for the woylie, as parasites have been implicated in the species’ dramatic decline and fire is a regular feature of their environment. This study will also demonstrate the utility of social networks in wildlife epidemiology.