Effects of fire on small mammal communities in frequent-fire forests in California

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Roberts, Susan L., Kelt, Douglas A., Wagtendonk, Jan W. van, Miles, A. Keith and Meyer, Marc D.
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Fire is a natural, dynamic process that is integral to maintaining ecosystem function. The reintroduction of fire (e.g., prescribed fire, managed wildfire) is a critical management tool for protecting many frequent-fire forests against stand-replacing fires while restoring an essential ecological process. Understanding the effects of fire on forests and wildlife communities is important in natural resource planning efforts. Small mammals are key components of forest food webs and essential to ecosystem function. To investigate the relationship of fire to small mammal assemblages, we live trapped small mammals in 10 burned and 10 unburned forests over 2 years in the central Sierra Nevada, California. Small mammal abundance was higher in unburned forests, largely reflecting the greater proportion of closed-canopy species such as Glaucomys sabrinus in unburned forests. The most abundant species across the entire study area was the highly adaptable generalist species, Peromyscus maniculatus. Species diversity was similar between burned and unburned forests, but burned forests were characterized by greater habitat heterogeneity and higher small mammal species evenness. The use and reintroduction of fire to maintain a matrix of burn severities, including large patches of unburned refugia, creates a heterogeneous and resilient landscape that allows for fire-sensitive species to proliferate and, as such, may help maintain key ecological functions and diverse small mammal assemblages.


Roberts, S. L., D. A. Kelt, J. W. van Wagtendonk, A. K. Miles, and M. D. Meyer. 2015. Effects of fire on small mammal communities in frequent-fire forests in California. Journal of Mammalogy 96:107–119.