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Reptile and Amphibian Response to Prescribed Burns in Florida

southern-leopard-frog
Herpetofaunal communities of longleaf pine-wiregrass sandhills evolved with frequent, low-intensity fire similar to the prescribed burns in the study. Many of these animals rely on frequent surface fires to maintain the open-canopy habitat conditions they need. Photo by Trish Hartmann.

USDA Forest Service and University of Florida scientists partnered to monitor reptiles and amphibians before and after growing season (spring and summer) and dormant season (winter) prescribed burns in longleaf pine sandhills in a study on the Ocala National Forest in Florida.

The research team recorded the number of animals captured, the number of species (species richness), and species diversity before and after several prescribed burns. Populations of six amphibian and six reptile species were monitored over the course of several prescribed burns during a 24-year period.

“We found that individual reptile and amphibian species responded differently to burning overall or season of burn, with responses (based on the number of captures) ranging from none at all to positive or negative,” says lead researcher Katie Greenberg.

Reptile species richness and diversity did not change before and after burns. Amphibian species richness increased after burns overall, and decreased more after growing season than dormant season burns. “Most responses, if any, occurred only in the first year after the burn,” adds Greenberg.

“Our study illustrated that prescribed burning overall and season of burn are unlikely to adversely affect reptile or amphibian communities or species in the short term. Most of the responses we saw were short-lived,” says Greenberg. “Despite natural fluctuations in numbers, or short-term changes in response to burns, populations were relatively unchanged over the 24-year period.”

These findings suggest that reptiles and amphibians in Florida sandhills are resilient to short-term effects of prescribed fire. Researchers and others can use these data to better understand species responses and ecological health of Florida forests.

Read the article in the Canadian Journal of Forest ResearchFor more information, email Katie Greenberg at katie.greenberg@usda.gov.

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