Article

Avifaunal responses to fire in southwestern montane forests along a burn severity gradient

U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, USA.
Ecological Applications (Impact Factor: 4.13). 04/2007; 17(2):491-507. DOI: 10.1890/06-0253
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The effects of burn severity on avian communities are poorly understood, yet this information is crucial to fire management programs. To quantify avian response patterns along a burn severity gradient, we sampled 49 random plots (2001-2002) at the 17351-ha Cerro Grande Fire (2000) in New Mexico, USA. Additionally, pre-fire avian surveys (1986-1988, 1990) created a unique opportunity to quantify avifaunal changes in 13 pre-fire transects (resampled in 2002) and to compare two designs for analyzing the effects of unplanned disturbances: after-only analysis and before-after comparisons. Distance analysis was used to calculate densities. We analyzed after-only densities for 21 species using gradient analysis, which detected a broad range of responses to increasing burn severity: (I) large significant declines, (II) weak, but significant declines, (III) no significant density changes, (IV) peak densities in low- or moderate-severity patches, (V) weak, but significant increases, and (VI) large significant increases. Overall, 71% of the species included in the after-only gradient analysis exhibited either positive or neutral density responses to fire effects across all or portions of the severity gradient (responses III-VI). We used pre/post pairs analysis to quantify density changes for 15 species using before-after comparisons; spatiotemporal variation in densities was large and confounded fire effects for most species. Only four species demonstrated significant effects of burn severity, and their densities were all higher in burned compared to unburned forests. Pre- and post-fire community similarity was high except in high-severity areas. Species richness was similar pre- and post-fire across all burn severities. Thus, ecosystem restoration programs based on the assumption that recent severe fires in Southwestern ponderosa pine forests have overriding negative ecological effects are not supported by our study of post-fire avian communities. This study illustrates the importance of quantifying burn severity and controlling confounding sources of spatiotemporal variation in studies of fire effects. After-only gradient analysis can be an efficient tool for quantifying fire effects. This analysis can also augment historical data sets that have small samples sizes coupled with high non-process variation, which limits the power of before-after comparisons.

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