Population density of the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca declines after fire in north-western Africa.PLoS One 2019; 14(8):e0220969Plos
Fire is a key ecological process in several biomes worldwide. Over recent decades, human activities (e.g. rural abandonment, monoculture plantations) and global warming are magnifying the risk of fire, with changes in fire intensity and frequency. Here, we offer the first study that examines the impact of fire on the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca living in a native cork oak forest and pine plantation in north-western Africa. A total of 44 transects (22 burnt and 22 unburnt) were sampled at 8 sites affected by fires of natural cork oak forest and pine plantation with 8 surveys per site in 2015-2017 (264 hours of sampling effort). Tortoise densities were estimated with line-transect distance sampling. The detection probability of tortoises was higher in burnt (0.915) than unburnt (0.474) transects. The density of tortoises was negatively associated with elevation and declined with fire by c. 50% in both forest types. The negative response of T. graeca to fire should be considered in conservation planning of this species in north-western Africa in a future scenario of changes in fire regime.