Date of this Version
Am. Midl. Nat. (2019) 181:1–17
Historically, eastern ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests were described as sparse patches of old-growth trees maintained by frequent, low-severity fires; however, in recent decades, there have been a number of large mixed-severity wildfires throughout the range of these forests. Wildlife responses to severe fire disturbance in eastern ponderosa pine forests are not well understood. Our study investigates how cavity-nesting bird species in an eastern ponderosa pine forest are impacted by burn severity. The objectives of our study were to: (1) identify the community composition of cavity-nesting birds in a 27 y old burn of mixed severity, (2) assess how habitat variables important to cavity-nesting birds differ in the mixed-severity fire, and (3) determine what habitat variables best predict bird occurrence 27 y after mixed-severity fire. We surveyed 56 sites across four burn severity classes, ranging from unburned to severely burned forest, in the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska. We measured multiple habitat characteristics (tree and snag diameter at breast height (DBH), coarse woody debris (CWD), tree and snag density, shrub height, and shrub cover) in May–August 2016 and conducted bird count surveys between 25 May and 8 June 2016. Cavity-nesting bird species’ occurrence varied among the burn severity variables. Burn severity class (unburned, low severity, moderate severity, high severity) was a significant predictor of habitat characteristics for cavity-nesting birds, including tree density, snag density, mean snag DBH, variance in DBH, and CWD, which also was the best indicator of cavity-nesting bird community composition. We report evidence that mixed-severity wildfires in eastern ponderosa pine forests create variation in habitat characteristics and cavity-nesting bird occurrence.