Fire Ecology, 2013
Volume 9, Issue 1
Although fire is recognized as an important disturbance in longleaf pine uplands of the southeastern US, less is known about the importance of fire or other disturbances in the wetlands embedded within this ecosystem. The reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi), a federally endangered species, and other rare and declining amphibians, are less likely to breed in low-quality wetlands with high canopy cover and low herbaceous groundcover that typically occur from fire exclusion. Fire rarely carries through these wetlands during winter because of the presence of standing water at this time of year. Our objective was to evaluate whether mechanical removal of the woody midstory could serve as a surrogate for fire, and create high-quality wetlands with moderate canopy cover and high herbaceous groundcover. We chose a series of high-quality (n = 4) and low-quality (n = 21) ephemeral wetlands for study. A subset of the low-quality wetlands were then treated mechanically and with herbicide (n = 8), burned (n = 4), or retained in a low-quality state (n = 7). Mechanical treatments reduced canopy cover (from 55.7 % to 41.4 %) to similar levels as high-quality sites (36.7 %); however, herbaceous groundcover did not increase (17.2 % post-treatment compared to 37.3 % at high-quality sites). Fire reduced the canopy cover (from 41.3 % to 33.0 %), and herbaceous groundcover was similar (33.2 % post treatment) to high-quality sites as of four months post burn. More time will be required to assess the response of herbaceous groundcover and whether mechanical methods can be used as a surrogate for fire to restore amphibian breeding habitat. Identifying surrogates for fire could add an important technique to our management toolbox.