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How do historical fire regimes influence avian distributions in dry coniferous forests?

Date: March 3, 2016
Description: Historical fire regimes have influenced vegetation structure, landscape patchiness, and animal distributions in dry coniferous forests of the Interior West. An Understanding how avian species and community responses vary with historical fire regimes is needed to effectively manage dry forests for maintaining biodiversity. We compared avian relationships with fire among 7 dry forest locations across the Interior West. We predicted different avian responses with fire among locations due to regional differences in historical fire regimes. We conducted surveys for occupancy of songbirds and for nests of woodpeckers before and after prescribed fire and up to 12 years following wildfire. We used multispecies hierarchical models to analyze relationships of bird occupancy with burn severity. Consistent with our prediction for mixedseverity fire regimes, we observed proportionately more positive species occupancy relationships and, consequently, a positive species richness relationship with burn severity. We also observed the opposite pattern in low severity fire regimes, which was congruent with our prediction. Cavity nesters and aerial insectivores occupied more severely burned sites following wildfire, corresponding with predicted increases in nesting substrate and foraging opportunities for these species. In contrast, canopy-nesting foliage gleaners and pine-seed consumers exhibited negative relationships with burn severity. Our results were consistent with predictions based on species life histories and with patterns from the literature, suggesting generality of observed relationships and locational differences in relationships with fire. We suggest that optimal management strategies for maintaining avian diversity could differ regionally. Specifically, intensive fuels management may be ecologically less appropriate for promoting biodiversity in the interior Northwest (e.g., Idaho and Washington), where mixed-severity wildfires and dense forest stands were historically more common than the interior Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico).
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Wildlife
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Type: Webinar
NRFSN number: 14340
Record updated: Nov 8, 2017