Development of a Traits Database and Vulnerability Framework to Assess Fire Susceptibility of Australian Invertebrate Species

Building AusInverTraits, a database of invertebrate traits for conservation and ecological management
An ant on tree burnt in a bushfire
Who will benefit
Researchers and government agencies that conduct conservation assessments and develop management strategies for recovery from natural disasters

The Challenge

Individual plant and animal species vary markedly in their population level responses to fire. Some species have characteristics that render them especially susceptible to mortality in fires or to a slow and challenging recovery. The persistence of such species in fire-prone environments is likely to need targeted – sometimes urgent – management. 

However, such information has not been readily collated, available or accessible, particularly for Australia’s ca. 320,000 invertebrate species. This lack of preparedness compromised action for at least 14,000 of the invertebrate species affected by the 2019–20 bushfires. The magnitude of invertebrate species affected by these fires far exceeded that of plant or vertebrate species, yet due to deficiencies in knowledge the response was inevitably skewed to those groups. It is critical we learn from the experience of the 2019–20 wildfires and address this shortcoming.

The Approach

The project developed a live dataset of invertebrate traits that relate to fire susceptibility along with a process for community approval. The dataset has been populated for a significant 10% of Australia’s 110,000 described invertebrate species. The project collaborated with the Atlas of Living Australia to arrange access to distributional data, linking fire overlap mapping to traits database to assess susceptibility.

The AusTraits plant traits database is being used as a model for the invertebrate traits database. The project worked closely with the AusTraits team, enabling linkages to be made between interacting species and allowing fire susceptibility of those species to be included in vulnerability assessments.

The Outcomes

This project has built AusInverTraits, an enduring living database of fire-relevant ecological and life history traits for Australian invertebrate species. Such information is crucial to rapidly identifying the species likely to be most imperilled by future bushfires, and guides targeted management where it is needed. 

The project aligned the invertebrate database with existing model databases for Australian plants and vertebrates, notably AusTraits. The project has expanded the existing database from 1200 species or 1% of Australia’s described invertebrates to at least 10% of that biota. It has also developed or adopted protocols to allow ongoing inputs by experts or supervised volunteers to the database.

The AusInverTraits dataset will be available soon.

Who Will Benefit

Government agencies and researchers

Access to the invertebrate and plant traits dataset will enable faster assessment and modelling of the impact of fire and the development of appropriate management responses.

Scientific societies, government agencies and independent researchers

The dataset will help prepare conservation assessments and identify species most at risk.

Fundamental researchers

Fundamental research on the biology and ecology of invertebrates will benefit through having access to invertebrate and plant trait data and interactions.

The Partners

  • Invertebrates Australia
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australian Museum
  • University of NSW
  • University of Sydney
  • Atlas of Living Australia
  • EcoCommons Australia
  • Australian Entomology Society
  • Australian National Insect Collection
  • Charles Darwin University

Further Resources

Contact the ARDC

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