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Spatiotemporal variability of fire characteristics affect animal responses in pyric landscapes

Author(s): Bradley S. Cohen, Thomas J. Prebyl, Bret A. Collier, Michael J. Chamberlain
Year Published: 2019

Background: Behavioral responses are the most immediate ways animals interact with their environment, and are primary mechanisms by which individuals mitigate mortality risk while ensuring reproductive success. In disturbance-driven landscapes, animals must adjust behaviors both spatially and temporally to maximize individual fitness. Prescribed fire is an important ecosystem driver in many coniferous forests, as fire cycles nutrients, creates spatially heterogeneous distributions in quantity and quality of forage and cover, and provides opportunities for fire-adapted taxa. Because fire immediately shifts resource distribution, and fire characteristics may drive behavioral responses to recent burns, we examined behavioral responses of 105 Global Positioning System (GPS)-tagged female eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris Linnaeus, 1758) to fire application at three sites in southeastern United States. We used satellite-derived imagery to calculate burn severity and burn heterogeneity. We also calculated distance to adjacent unburned stands and time-since-fire at GPS locations of each turkey while inside burned stands. We used behavioral change point analyses to estimate behavioral state for turkeys using burned areas, and generalized linear mixed models to estimate how fire characteristics affected turkey behavior inside burned areas.

Results: Turkeys focused their use in less severely burned areas, and were less likely to use the interior of burned areas. Turkeys were more likely to forage and rest in less severely burned areas, suggesting that managers should apply prescribed fire frequently enough to promote low-severity burns. We found that, as distance to neighboring unburned areas increased, turkeys were more likely to walk through the interiors of recently burned areas, as opposed to resting or foraging in them, suggesting that the interiors of some burn units are less suitable habitat in the year that prescribed fire is applied. Our findings suggest that prescribed fire applied to ensure that interior areas of burned stands are <250 m from adjacent unburned stands or to stands shaped to maximize edge-to-area ratios likely create more suitable conditions for foraging and resting.

Conclusions: The application and spatial arrangement of prescribed fire, even in frequently burned areas, affect animal response and behaviors. Prescribed fire regimes should be created in recognition that sizes of burned stands and fire severity, along with determinants of fire severity (e.g., fuel loads, return intervals, timing), are important influences on animal behavior in frequent-fire-managed landscapes.

Citation: Cohen BS, Prebyl TJ, Collier BA, and Chamberlain MJ. 2019. Spatiotemporal variability of fire characteristics affect animal responses in pyric landscapes. Fire Ecology 15:41.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Birds
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20364
Record updated: Dec 9, 2019