Background: Predators and fire shape ecosystems across the globe and these two forces can interact to impact prey populations. This issue is particularly pertinent in Australia where there is considerable scientific and public interest in the post-fire impacts of two invasive predators-the feral cat and red fox. It remains unclear, though, whether increased cat and fox activity in response to fire is a general phenomenon, or whether the responses are highly context-specific and not generalisable.
Results: We reviewed and analysed existing literature and found that a range of positive (e.g., increased activity in burnt areas), negative (decreased activity), and neutral responses have been recorded across different studies and locations. Mixed effects modelling revealed that positive responses to fire were more likely when areas were burnt more recently (shorter time since fire). The mean likelihood of increased activity by cats decreased from 41% at 0 months post-fire to 10% at 100 months post-fire, whereas the mean probability for foxes decreased from 53 to 10%. This suggests that there may be a critical time period immediately post-fire when prey are most vulnerable to elevated impacts of predators, and within which management interventions are likely to be most impactful.
Conclusions: Many of our findings can be identified as potential cases of either mechanistic or apparent context dependency (variation in recorded patterns due to observational and ecological factors). This provides a pathway for the design of future studies that will enhance our understanding of predator responses to fire, both in Australia and globally. Conservation policy and management will benefit from additional research spanning a greater range of ecosystems and fire events, along with a more comprehensive and nuanced interpretation of existing evidence.