Fire Ecology, 2008
Volume 4, Issue 2
Wintering Grassland Bird Habitat Selection Following Summer Prescribed Fire in a Texas Gulf Coast Tallgrass Prairie
Authors: Damion E. Marx, Sallie J. Hejl, and Garth Herring
We examined changes in winter habitat use by four grassland passerine birds in response to summer prescribed burning within a Texas gulf coast tallgrass prairie during 2001 and 2002. We used a traditional Before-After/Control-Impact (BACI) design consisting of one treatment plot (burned during summer 2001) and one control plot (no burning during the study period, but burned in previous years) at two study areas. Examination of use versus availability suggested that savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) preferred recently burned patches. In contrast, sedge wrens (Cistothorus platensis) and Le Conte’s sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii) avoided recently burned patches and preferred later successional stages. Our results suggest that grassland birds partitioned the prairie mosaic along a gradient of successional ecotypes, and that post-fire succession is an important ecological process influencing wildlife habitat use. Our results also highlighted the potential to sustain grassland bird habitats by managing Texas gulf coast tallgrass prairie with 3 yr to 4 yr rotational summer burns, similar to the historic fire return interval for this habitat type. We suggest that reinstating fire on its natural return interval will produce coarse-grained (e.g., 100 ha to 300 ha) habitat mosaics within the landscape and will sustain winter habitat diversity required for the guild of wintering grassland birds.