Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Effects of prescribed fire on vegetation and passerine birds in northern mixed-grass prairie.

Abstract

Prescribed fire is used widely to manage grasslands on National Wildlife Refuges and other public lands in the northern Great Plains, but its effects on habitat use or production of wildlife in the region are poorly understood. During 1998-2003, we used point counts to examine effects of prescribed fire on vegetation and passerines in a mixed-grass prairie complex in north-central North Dakota, USA (n=7 units, each 40-70 ha). Vegetation structure and, to a lesser extent, plant community composition varied with year of study (likely related to changes in annual precipitation) and with number of growing seasons since fire. Fire altered plant structure, especially the amount of residual vegetation, which in turn influenced bird species richness and abundance. The number of indicated pairs for sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis), clay-colored sparrow (Spizella pallida), Le Conte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii), Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), and bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) were lowest during the first postfire growing season but generally increased and stabilized within 2-3 postfire growing seasons. Our results support the premise that grassland passerines are well-adapted to frequent, periodic fires, generally corresponding to those occurring prior to Euro-American settlement of the region. Prescribed fire is important for reducing tree and shrub invasion, restoring biological integrity of plant communities, and maintaining or enhancing populations of grassland-dependent bird species. Managers in the northern mixed-grass prairie region should not be overly concerned about reductions in bird abundances that are limited mostly to the first growing season after fire.