Lou Pastro

Lou Pastro
The Institute of Wildlife Research
School of Biological Sciences
Heydon-Laurence Building A08
University of Sydney
NSW 2006

Tel: (61-2) 9351 3134
Fax: (61-2) 9351 4119
Email: lpastro@bio.usyd.edu.au

Current Research

Desert island biogeography: vertebrate dynamics after fire-induced fragmentation of habitat in central Australia.

Broadscale wildfires have a dramatic effect on ecosystems, fragmenting vegetation communities and producing islands of unburnt vegetation amidst areas of open, burnt land. Populations of surviving vertebrates also become fragmented as they retreat to the remaining unburnt patches that contain food and shelter resources. Although it is likely that a range of ecological interactions are responsible for the post-fire distribution of species, little is known about these interactions or the factors which facilitate community recovery. Therefore the post-fire distribution of species and the effects of fire on threatened species cannot be predicted and so effective management strategies cannot be formulated.

Wildfires in the Simpson Desert burnt over three million hectares of hummock grassland in the summer of 2001-2002, creating a typical post-fire landscape characterised by a mosaic of unburnt vegetation amid areas of bare sand. Fires of this magnitude are rare in the arid zone, having occurred only four times in the last century. Thus this fire event presented a unique opportunity to study the responses of the arid zone small mammal community to wildfire.

Early observations indicated that small mammals retreated to the unburnt patches within six months of the fire however their distribution was not arrayed along a continuum of post-fire vegetation succession. Instead, it was influenced by factors including rainfall, time after fire, seedbank density and cattle grazing. The interaction between these factors and their effects on different species or on community recovery is not well understood.

In light of this, the general aim of my research is to clarify the factors driving the observed responses of small mammals to wildfire in the arid zone and to experimentally identify factors such as food, shelter, grazing and predation that may be instrumental in facilitating community recovery. My research will help guide future management strategies for the conservation of small mammals in central Australia and will provide information needed to facilitate the recovery of threatened and endangered species.


Pastro, L.A. and Banks, P.B. (2005). Foraging responses of wild house mice to accumulations of conspecific odor as a predation risk. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (in press)




What's On

Next Field Trips

Sept 2012

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