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Fire Ecology, 2011
Volume 7, Issue 2

Wildfires Alter Rodent Community Structure across Four Vegetation Types in Southern California, USA
Authors: Cheryl S. Brehme, Denise R. Clark, Carlton J. Rochester, and Robert N. Fisher
Pages: 81-98
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0702081

We surveyed burned and unburned plots across four habitat reserves in San Diego County, California, USA, in 2005 and 2006, to assess the effects of the 2003 wildfires on the community structure and relative abundance of rodent species. The reserves each contained multiple vegetation types (coastal sage scrub, chaparral, woodland, and grassland) and spanned from 250 m to 1078 m in elevation. Multivariate analyses revealed a more simplified rodent community structure in all burned habitats in comparison to unburned habitats. Reduction in shrub and tree cover was highly predictive of changes in post-fire rodent community structure in the burned coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats. Reduction in cover was not predictive for the less substantially burned woodlands and grasslands, for which we hypothesized that interspecific competition played a greater role in post-fire community structure. Across vegetation types, generalists and open habitat specialists typically increased in relative abundance, whereas closed habitat specialists decreased. We documented significant increases in relative abundance of the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus Wagner) and Dulzura kangaroo rat (Dipodomys simulans Merriam). In contrast, we found significant decreases in relative abundance for the California mouse (Peromyscus californicus Gambel), San Diego pocket mouse (Chaetodipus fallax Merriam), desert woodrat (Neotoma lepida Thomas), and brush mouse (Peromyscus boylii Baird). Currently, our research program involves assessment of whether habitat conservation plans (HCPs) in southern California provide long-term protection to HCP covered species, as well as preserve ecosystem function. The scenario of increased wildfires needs to be incorporated into this assessment. We discuss our results in relation to management and conservation planning under a future scenario of larger and more frequent wildfires in southern California.

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