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Short-Term Response of Ground-Dwelling Arthropods to Prescribed Fire and Mechanical Fuel Reduction in a Southern Appalachian Upland Hardwood Forest

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As part of the multidisciplinary National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, we used drift fences with pitfall traps to determine how three fuel reduction treatments affected ground-dwelling macroarthropods in the southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Four experimental units, each >14 ha, were contained within each of three replicate blocks. Treatments were (1) prescribed burning, (2) mechanical felling of shrubs and small trees, (3) mechanical felling + burning, and (4) untreated controls. Mechanical understory felling was conducted in winter 2001‐2002, and prescribed burning was conducted in March 2003. Mechanical felling + burning resulted in greater canopy openness compared with the other treatments as a result of hotter fires and elevated levels of subsequent tree mortality. Burning reduced leaf litter depth in both burned treatments by >80%. We captured 6,776 individual macroarthropods (460 g of dry biomass) within 22 identified orders and 59 identified families. Coleoptera and Hymenoptera were numerically dominant (27.3 and 25.9%, respectively); Lepidoptera larvae also were a dominant component of dry biomass (37%). We found no differences among treatments in the relative abundance or dry biomass of total ground-dwelling macroarthropods or within most orders; Hymenoptera (predominantly Formicidae) dry biomass was greater with mechanical felling + burning than with mechanical felling. Total relative abundance and dry biomass were low in spring and higher in late summer. Our results indicate that prescribed burning and mechanical fuel reduction treatments conducted in winter or early spring have little impact on the community composition, relative abundance, or biomass of total arthropods or most arthropod orders and families, at least in the short term. However, because we did not use a killing agent, our trapping method probably undersampled macroarthropods that could climb or fly from traps, and results for those groups should be interpreted cautiously. Our study suggests that the fuel reduction methods studied may be used as a land management tool in upland hardwood forest with little effect on macroarthropod communities or the ground-dwelling arthropod prey base for vertebrates.
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Keywords: burn; fire surrogate; fuel reduction; macroarthropods; southern Appalachians; upland hardwoods

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-02-01

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  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2016 Impact Factor: 1.782 (Rank 17/64 in forestry)

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    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
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