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Effects of a stand-replacing fire on small-mammal communities in montane forest

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Wildfire, ubiquitous and recurring over thousands of years, is the most important natural disturbance in northern coniferous forest. Accordingly, forest fires may exert a strong influence on the structure and functioning of small-mammal communities. We compared the composition of rodent and shrew communities in burned and unburned patches of a Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirbel) Franco)– western larch (Larix occidentalis Nutt.) forest in western Montana, USA. Trapping was conducted during two consecutive summers after a wildfire. Four trapping sites were sampled in areas that burned at high severity and two in unburned forest. Small-mammal communities in burned sites were characterized by strong numerical dominance of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus (Wagner, 1845)) and greatly reduced proportion of southern red-backed voles (Clethrionomys gapperi (Vigors, 1830)) and red-toothed shrews (genus Sorex L., 1758). Relatively rare species such as northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus (Shaw, 1801)) and bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea (Ord, 1815)) were largely restricted to unburned areas. The numbers of chipmunks (genus Tamias Illiger, 1811) were similar in burned and unburned areas. Rodent diversity was higher in unburned forest, but only during the 1styear after fire. Overall, the fire shifted small-mammal communities away from more specialized red-backed voles and shrews and towards greater abundance of generalist deer mice.

Les feux de brousse, qui se produisent partout et se multiplient au cours des millénaires, constituent la perturbation naturelle la plus importante dans la forêt boréale de conifères. En conséquence, les feux de forêt peuvent avoir une forte influence sur la structure et le fonctionnement des communautés de petits mammifères. Nous comparons la composition des communautés de rongeurs et de musaraignes dans des taches incendiées et intactes d’une forêt de sapins de Douglas (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirbel) Franco) et de mélèzes occidentaux (Larix occidentalis Nutt.) dans l’ouest du Montana, É.-U. Nous avons fait du piégeage pendant deux années consécutives après un incendie de forêt. Quatre sites d’échantillonnage se trouvaient dans des zones sévèrement incendiées et deux dans une forêt intacte. Les communautés de petits mammifères des sites incendiés se caractérisent par une dominance numérique importante des souris à pattes blanches (Peromyscus maniculatus (Wagner, 1845)) et une proportion fortement réduite de campagnols à dos roux (Clethrionomys gapperi (Vigors, 1830)) et de musaraignes (genre Sorex L., 1758). Les espèces relativement rares, telles que les écureuils volants (Glaucomys sabrinus (Shaw, 1801)) et les rats sylvestres gris (Neotoma cinerea (Ord, 1815)), sont généralement restreintes aux zones intactes. Les densités de tamias (genre Tamias Illiger, 1811) sont les mêmes dans les zones incendiées et intactes. La diversité des rongeurs est plus grande dans la forêt intacte, mais seulement durant la première année suivant le feu. En résumé, le feu a comme conséquence de modifier les communautés de petits mammifères d’une prédominance de campagnols à dos roux et de musaraignes plus spécialisés vers une abondance accrue des souris à pattes blanches plus généralistes.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2007

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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