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Identifying coarse- and fine-scale drivers of avian abundance following prescribed fires

Author(s): Dana J. Morin, Laurel Schablein, Nikole Simmons, Jean Lorber, Marek K. Smith
Year Published: 2021

Suppression of historic fire regimes in North America has altered successional stages and shifted vegetation communities, negatively impacting wildlife diversity in forests. Prescribed fire is often used to increase habitat for wildlife populations and diversity but monitoring of responses does not always capture nuanced differences in habitat that influence wildlife communities over a range of ecological conditions and processes. We matched avian point count data with extensive vegetation sampling of unburned plots and plots that burned 12–16 months prior to evaluate the effects of coarse- and fine-scale habitat variables on the abundance of a suite of avian indicator species and nesting guilds. We estimated abundance conditional on detection probability based on repeated sampling over time intervals using N-mixture models and assessed support for coarse- and fine-scale habitat variables using multimodel inference and AIC. Six of 10 species demonstrated different abundances on burned and unburned plots. Abundances of three species were influenced solely by coarse variables, one species by fine-scale vegetation, and five species were dependent on a mix of coarse- and fine-scale variables. Even fine-scale vegetation characteristics did not fully capture the ecological processes stimulated by fire and compensatory community differences including interactions among species such as competition and predator avoidance should be considered in predicting species responses to prescribed fire. Shrub nester abundance was much higher on plots that burned the year prior, but the effect sizes of other variables were small for ground, tree, and cavity nesters, even though there were strong differences in abundances of individual species within those guilds. Detection probability was most often affected by conditions during the count including start time, temperature and wind, but also burn status and observer, suggesting potential bias in findings that do not account for heterogeneity in detection probability. We suggest variable responses of individual species within nesting guilds may obscure identification of responses in the avian community and inhibit assessment of management and restoration actions. Understanding species-specific responses to fine-scale habitat variables in the context of coarse ecological typology and the associated vegetative and wildlife community will provide the greatest insight to how prescribed fire characteristics interact to produce wildlife responses, and thus enhance its use as a restoration tool.

Citation: Morin Dana J.; Schablein, Laurel; Simmons, L. Nikole; Lorber, Jean H.; Smith, Marek K. 2021. Identifying coarse- and fine-scale drivers of avian abundance following prescribed fires. Forest Ecology and Management 485:118940. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2021.118940
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Birds, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments, Recovery after fire, Restoration
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 23084
FRAMES RCS number: 62719
Record updated: May 10, 2021