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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Modeling the effects of environmental disturbance on wildlife communities: avian responses to prescribed fire
Year: 2009
Author(s): Russell, R. E., Royle, J. A., Saab, V. A., Lehmkuhl, J. F., Block, W. M., Meek, D. W.
Source Title: Ecological Applications
Source Type: Journal
pages: 1253-1263
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Prescribed fire is a management tool used to reduce fuel loads on public lands in forested areas in the western United States. Identifying the impacts of prescribed fire on bird communities in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests is necessary for providing land management agencies with information regarding the effects of fuel reduction on sensitive, threatened, and migratory bird species Recent developments in occupancy modeling have established a framework for quantifying the impacts of management practices on wildlife community dynamics. We describe a Bayesian hierarchical model of multi-species occupancy accounting for detection probability, and we demonstrate the model’s usefulness for identifying effects of habitat disturbances on wildlife communities. Advantages to using the model include the ability to estimate the effects of environmental impacts on rare or elusive species, the intuitive nature of the modeling, the incorporation of detection probability, the estimation of parameter uncertainty, the flexibility of the model to suit a variety of experimental designs, and the composite estimate of the response that applies to the collection of observed species as opposed to merely a small subset of common species. Our modeling of the impacts of prescribed fire on avian communities in a ponderosa pine forest in Washington indicate that prescribed fire treatments result in increased occupancy rates for several bark-insectivore, cavity-nesting species including a management species of interest, Black-backed Woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus). Three aerial insectivore species, and the ground insectivore, American Robin (Turdus migratorius), also responded positively to prescribed fire, whereas three foliage insectivores and two seed specialists, Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) and the Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), declined following treatments. Land management agencies interested in determining the effects of habitat manipulations on wildlife communities can use these methods to provide guidance for future management activities.