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Too hot to trot? Evaluating the effects of wildfire on patterns of occupancy and abundance for a climate-sensitive habitat specialist

Author(s): Johanna Varner, Mallory S. Lambert, Joshua J. Horns, Sean Laverty, Laurie Dizney, Erik A. Beever, M. Denise Dearing
Year Published: 2015
Description:

Wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change in many ecosystems; however, effects of altered disturbance regimes on wildlife remain poorly quantified. Here, we leverage an unexpected opportunity to investigate how fire affects the occupancy and abundance of a climate-sensitive habitat specialist, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). We determine the effects of a fire on microclimates within talus and explore habitat factors promoting persistence and abundance in fire-affected habitat. During the fire, temperatures in talus interstices remained below 19°C, suggesting that animals could have survived in situ. Within 2 years, pikas were widely distributed throughout burned areas and did not appear to be physiologically stressed at severely burned sites. Furthermore, pika densities were better predicted by topographic variables known to affect this species than by metrics of fire severity. This widespread distribution may reflect quick vegetation recovery and the fact that the fire did not alter the talus microclimates in the following years. Together, these results highlight the value of talus as a thermal refuge for small animals during and after fire. They also underscore the importance of further study in individual species’ responses to typical and altered disturbance regimes.

Citation: Varner, J.; Lambert, M.S.; Horns, J.J.; Laverty, S.; Dizney, L.; Beever, E.A.; Dearing, M.D. 2015. Too hot to trot? Evaluating the effects of wildfire on patterns of occupancy and abundance for a climate-sensitive habitat specialist. International Journal of Wildland Fire. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF15038
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Mammals, Rabbits, hares, pikas, Habitat Assessment
Ecosystem(s): Montane wet mixed-conifer forest
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 13185
Record updated: Jul 5, 2018