Fire increases individual degree

Individual-level response to habitat change represents an increasingly important, but as yet little understood, component of animal behavior. Disturbance events often alter habitat, which in turn can modify behaviors of individuals in affected areas, including changes in habitat use and associated changes in social structure. To better understand these relationships, I investigated habitat selection and social connectivity of red-backed fairywrens, before and after naturally occurring fires. Before fires, fairywrens used habitat that had similar grass cover to available habitat plots within our study site. Fire caused a reduction in grass cover, and fairywrens responded by selecting habitat with higher grass cover. This led to individuals having stronger connections to more individuals in these patches of unburnt vegetation post-fire. In contrast, social connectivity was slightly lower during the same time period among fairywrens that were not directly affected by fire. This study demonstrates how individual-level responses to changes in habitat and resource availability caused by disturbance can lead to substantive changes in social connectivity, which can have important fitness implications.

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