International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Too hot to trot? Evaluating the effects of wildfire on patterns of occupancy and abundance for a climate-sensitive habitat specialist

Johanna Varner A F , Mallory S. Lambert A , Joshua J. Horns A , Sean Laverty B , Laurie Dizney C , Erik A. Beever D E and M. Denise Dearing A

A University of Utah, Department of Biology, 257 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.

B University of Central Oklahoma, Department of Mathematics, 100 North University Drive, Edmond, OK 73034, USA.

C University of Portland, Department of Biology, 5000 N. Willamette Boulevard, Portland, OR 97203, USA.

D US Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, 2327 University Way, Suite 2, Bozeman, MT 59715, USA.

E Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email: johanna.varner@utah.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 24(7) 921-932 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF15038
Submitted: 6 February 2015  Accepted: 21 April 2015   Published: 4 June 2015

Abstract

Wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change in many ecosystems; however, effects of altered disturbance regimes on wildlife remain poorly quantified. Here, we leverage an unexpected opportunity to investigate how fire affects the occupancy and abundance of a climate-sensitive habitat specialist, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). We determine the effects of a fire on microclimates within talus and explore habitat factors promoting persistence and abundance in fire-affected habitat. During the fire, temperatures in talus interstices remained below 19°C, suggesting that animals could have survived in situ. Within 2 years, pikas were widely distributed throughout burned areas and did not appear to be physiologically stressed at severely burned sites. Furthermore, pika densities were better predicted by topographic variables known to affect this species than by metrics of fire severity. This widespread distribution may reflect quick vegetation recovery and the fact that the fire did not alter the talus microclimates in the following years. Together, these results highlight the value of talus as a thermal refuge for small animals during and after fire. They also underscore the importance of further study in individual species’ responses to typical and altered disturbance regimes.

Additional keywords: Ochotona, pika, talus, thermal refuge, wildlife.


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