Our bush heroes

Published 12 Jun 2020 

The Australian bush is remarkably resilient to fire, and that’s in no small part thanks to the combined services of many native animals.

Wedge-tailed Eagles

Wedge-tailed Eagle illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.
Wedge-tailed Eagle illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.

Without Wedge-tailed Eagles, we would have a much harder job cleaning up landscapes after fire.

Along with other birds of prey and scavengers, these apex predators clear away carcasses and help prevent the spread of disease.

With fewer carcasses lying around, feral predators such as cats and foxes are less likely to be drawn to an area.

Wedge-tailed Eagles help the bush regenerate in another important way, too – through a mechanism known as energy transference. After feeding, Wedge-tailed Eagles cycle nutrients back into the environment through their droppings, allowing energy to be spread more evenly through the landscape.

Echidnas

Echidna illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.
Echidna illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.

Our favourite spiny monotremes are constantly disturbing and moving soil around as they search for their next meal of tasty ants. After fire, this activity is hugely beneficial to soil health and seed dispersal.

Intense bushfires can bake the ground making it difficult for water to penetrate the surface.

Echidnas break down this hard surface as they scratch and prod around with their long beaks and clawed feet, increasing water permeability in the process and cycling top layer nutrients into the soil beneath.

They also collect and eat soil and seeds along with ants, and then spread them through the landscape in their faeces. These small, ecosystem services all add up to aid in the recruitment and regeneration of native plants after fire.

Ants

Small though they may be, ants are one of Australia’s most important seed dispersers.

Ant illustration by Jessie Rose Ford.
Ant illustration by Jessie Rose Ford.

In fact, they’re so vital that many native Australian plants, including some native wattles and peas, actively encourage ants to spread their seeds through nutritional benefits and chemicals.

The primary way in which ants disperse seeds is by carrying them back to their underground nests and this industrious work proves incredibly important following fire. Not only does it reduce the amount of surface seed eaten by other animals such as native rodents and wallabies, it also distances seeds from their parent plants and protects them from fire and harsh temperatures.

Ants can also be credited with creating holes in the top layer soil post-fire, thus helping increase its permeability to water.

Gang-gang Cockatoos

Gang Gang Cockatoo illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.
Gang Gang Cockatoo illustrated by Jessie Rose Ford.

These distinctive parrots help the Australian bush to regenerate after fire by facilitating the spread and germination of native seeds.

Found throughout south-eastern Australia, Gang-gangs feed on the seeds of many eucalypt and wattle species, as well as berries, nuts and insects.

Using their powerful, curved beaks, they crack open hard casings and crush the seeds within before distributing them all over the landscape in their droppings.

As they forage, Gang-gangs will also knock seeds from stems, cones and flower heads to the ground, which further promotes the regeneration of the bush.