Date of this Version
Fire Science Brief, Issue 104, April 2010
Longleaf pine forests are prime real estate for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests in cavities in older trees. While researchers and state and federal agencies carefully monitor and encourage the survival of this endangered species, beneath the canopy, a rich diversity of less mobile species abounds. Much attention has been focused on the use of prescribed fire to improve longleaf pine habitat for its own sake, and for the woodpecker. Very little is known about the effects of fi re on the herpetofauna. In the Oakmulgee Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest in Alabama, scientists have measured the response of herps to fi re within an 8,000-acre tract devoted to upland longleaf pine restoration. The goals of the study were to determine the effects of fire at different intervals and season of burn on the herpetofaunal community, and to devise a replicable tool to monitor ecosystem health and guide restoration efforts. While the structure of a longleaf pine savanna—the way the forest looks to the casual observer—is often cited as evidence of forest health, gauging ecosystem function can be refi ned by taking a closer look, at the community level, at these vertebrates, which are less mobile than any one species of bird or mammal, and which are a better indicator of overall forest health.