Short-term response of herpetofauna and small mammal populations to the season of prescribed burning in a southern Appalachian upland hardwood forest
Prescribed fire has long been used to restore disturbance dependent ecosystems, and has primarily been conducted in the dormant season due to more predictable environmental conditions. Short-term response of herpetofauna and small mammals to single dormant season burns in the southern Appalachians have been studied, and few effects were detected. However, response to growing season burns has not been studied. From late-May to early-August 2013 and 2014, drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps were used to capture herpetofauna, and Sherman traps were used to capture small mammals in a replicated study comparing controls (unburned) and two prescribed fire treatments (n=3 each): 1) growing season burn (burned April 2013; trapped in 2013 and 2014), and 2) dormant season burn (burned March 2014; trapped in 2014 only). A total of 280 amphibians of 11 species, 100 reptiles of 11 species, and 101 small mammals of 4 species were captured. Reptile relative abundance was found to be significantly higher in growing season burn treatments compared with control in 2013. However, results indicate no difference in reptile, amphibian, or small mammal relative abundance in 2014, after both treatments had been implemented. This study suggests that the season of prescribed burning in the southern Appalachian upland hardwood forest will does not negatively affect herpetofauna and small mammal abundance, at least in the short term. Nevertheless, region specific studies are needed to fully understand the impacts of season of prescribed burn on these wildlife communities and populations.