Reptile and amphibian responses to restoration of fire-maintained pine woodlands
Fire-maintained woodlands and savannas are important ecosystems for vertebrates in many regions of the world. These ecosystems are being restored by forest managers, but little information exists on herpetofaunal responses to this restoration in areas dominated by shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). We compared habitat characteristics and herpetofaunal communities in restored pine woodlands to relatively unmanaged, second-growth forests in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas, USA. We found woodland restoration with periodic burning affected species differently; some species benefited, some species appeared negatively affected, but most species did not respond clearly either way. Overall reptile captures were significantly (p = 0.041) greater in pine-woodlands than in unrestored forest; one species of snake and three species of lizards were captured more often in woodlands than unrestored forests. Among anurans, we found no significant difference in captures between woodlands and unrestored forests for any species. Among salamanders, we captured western slimy salamanders (Plethodon albagula) almost exclusively in unrestored forest, but captures of other species did not differ between the two treatments. Historically, the Ouachita region likely consisted of a mosaic that included both fire-maintained habitats (woodlands, savannas, and prairies) and areas of denser forest on mesic sites that were less likely to burn. Consequently, landscapes that retain both open woodlands and denser, less-intensely burned forest (in the form of unharvested greenbelts or separate stands) would likely promote and maintain a greater diversity of herpetofauna.