Avian Responses to Pine Barrens Prescribed Fire

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Stillman, Andrew N.
pine barrens; prescribed fire; pyrogenic habitats; shrubland birds; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Forest Biology; Poultry or Avian Science
thesis / dissertation description
Inland pine barrens support a rich community of plants and animals uniquely adapted to life in open-canopy, pyrogenic habitats. These environments also support a diverse array of birds, including critical populations of declining shrubland species. Active habitat management using prescribed fire is often necessary to maintain and restore pine barrens ecosystems. This study examines the effects of a prescribed burn on a resident pine barrens bird community at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve in East-central New York State. I used data collected during bird mist-netting to compare bird diversity, abundance, and body mass between the burn site and an adjacent site in the year before and after the burn. The post-fire burn site yielded the largest number of bird captures, but it had the lowest index of diversity. Relative abundance was analyzed for 12 species. Of these, four species were significantly more abundant and three species were significantly less abundant in the post-burn site. Differences in bird body mass varied between burned and non-burned treatments, suggesting altered food availability after the burn. Three species were significantly heavier in the post-burn site. No species were significantly less massive in this site. Given the positive responses of many bird species directly following the burn, I conclude that the short-term effects of prescribed fire do not pose a significant threat to resident bird populations in this pine barrens ecosystem. The bird community on this pyrogenic landscape demonstrates remarkable resilience and adaptation to fire disturbance.