Short-term response of reptiles and amphibians to prescribed fire and mechanical fuel reduction in a southern Appalachian upland hardwood forest
We compared the effects of three fuel reduction techniques and a control on the relative abundance and richness of reptiles and amphibians using drift fence arrays with pitfall and funnel traps. Three replicate blocks were established at the Green River Game Land, Polk County, North Carolina. Each replicate block contained four experimental units that were each approximately 14 ha in size. Treatments were prescribed burn (B); mechanical understory reduction (M); mechanical + burn (MB); and controls (C). Mechanical treatments were conducted in winter 2001–2002, and prescribed burns in March 2003. Hot fires in MB killed about 25% of the trees, increasing canopy openness relative to controls. Leaf litter depth was reduced in B and MB after burning, but increased in M due to the addition of dead leaves during understory felling. The pre-treatment trapping period was short (15 August–10 October 2001) but established a baseline for post-treatment comparison. Post-treatment (2002–2004), traps were open nearly continuously May–September. We captured a total of 1308 species of 13 amphibians, and 335 reptiles of 13 species. The relative abundance of total salamanders, common salamander species, and total amphibians was not changed by the fuel reduction treatments. Total frogs and toads (anurans) and Bufo americanus were most abundant in B and MB; however, the proximity of breeding sites likely affected our results. Total reptile abundance and Sceloporus undulatus abundance were highest in MB after burning, but differed significantly only from B. Mean lizard abundance in MB was highest in 2004 and higher than in other treatments, but differences were not statistically significant. Our results indicate that a single application of the fuel reduction methods studied will not negatively affect amphibian or reptile abundance or diversity in southern Appalachian upland hardwood forest. Our study further suggests that high-intensity burning with heavy tree-kill, as in MB, can be used as a management tool to increase reptile abundance – particularly lizards – with no negative impact on amphibians, at least in the short-term.