I am starting here with a quote from Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog – “A recent assessment by ecologists at the University of Sydney has suggested that almost half a billion reptiles, mammals and birds have been killed so far by the fires.” This assessment by University of Sydney ecologists was made in December before the devastating fires raged through south-eastern NSW and eastern Victoria over the New Year period, so the true figures are likely to have grown substantially since than and will continue to grow over this devastating fire season. Losses of insects, including pollinators, will be even greater. These losses will number in the billions of individuals but what we will never know will be how many locally-endemic species are lost forever, and how much genetic biodiversity is lost in the surviving species. Our lab is working in several areas monitoring pollinator recovery after fire but recovery of both plants and pollinators is being hampered by the ongoing drought conditions. In the Howell Shrubland Endangered Ecological Community, for example, where we have been working since 2007, neither plants nor pollinators are recovering.
We recorded a very low spike of pollinator numbers in the burnt area that correlated with the growth and flowering of very small numbers of fire-ephemeral plants. In fact, we recorded more pollinators in the burnt area than in the adjoining unburnt area (where there were no fire ephemerals and the other plants were not flowering in spite of the fact that it was the normal flowering season). We presented this information at the Ecological Society of Australia meeting in Launceston in November 2019. It will be very interesting to see what recovery occurs once normal rains return.