Bioturbation on wildfire-affected southeast Australian hillslopes: Spatial and temporal variation

Paul J. Richards*, Geoff S. Humphreys, Kerrie M. Tomkins, Richard A. Shakesby, Stefan H. Doerr

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    The importance of bioturbation as an agent of soil and geomorphological change is well known but few observations have been made of spatial and temporal variations in bioturbation rates. We quantified variations in surface bioturbation by ants (particularly Aphaenogaster longiceps) and vertebrates in the sandstone terrain of the Blue Mountains, southeast Australia. Following wildfire during the period late 2001-early 2002, we monitored thirty-three 5m2 plots positioned in six different slope units and in two catchments affected by different wildfire severities. Measurements were made seasonally for six years. Overall, mean rates of ant mounding and surface scraping by vertebrates were similar (246±339g m-2 yr-1 and 274±179g m-2 yr-1, respectively). However, rates varied substantially according to slope unit, showing a marked maximum for both ant mounding and total bioturbation on footslopes. Possible reasons for this spatial variation are discussed. A complex response to various soil and ecological factors such as soil texture, soil moisture and vegetation patterns is the most likely explanation. Associated estimates of topsoil (0-30cm depth) turnover times, based on ant mounding rates alone, ranged from 300 to 100,000years for different slope units. In contrast to previous findings, wildfire severity did not seem to affect bioturbation, possibly because of ant survival in deep nests and spatial patchiness of fire severity. There was likewise no clear link between temporal changes in bioturbation and fire severity; high rates in the first two years after wildfire were followed by lower rates for all burn severity types. There was also seasonal variability that was not directly related to rainfall. The results substantiate the importance of bioturbation in modifying soil characteristics and influencing soil erosion, especially following a major disturbance event like wildfire.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)20-30
    Number of pages11
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


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