Response of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) to fire and fire surrogate fuel reduction treatments in a southern Appalachian hardwood forest
An experiment conducted as part of the multidisciplinary National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study was designed to determine effects of three fuel reduction techniques on small mammals and habitat structure in the southern Appalachian mountains. Four experimental units, each >14-ha were contained within each of three replicate blocks at the Green River Game Land, Polk County, NC. Treatments were (1) prescribed burning (B); (2) mechanical felling of shrubs and small trees (M); (3) mechanical felling + burning (MB); (4) controls (C). Mechanical understory felling treatments were conducted in winter 2001–2002, and prescribed burning was conducted in March 2003. After treatment, there were fewer live trees, more snags, and greater canopy openness in MB than in other treatments. Leaf litter depth was reduced by burning in both B and MB treatments, and tall shrub cover was reduced in all fuel reduction treatments compared to C. Coarse woody debris pieces and percent cover were similar among treatments and controls. We captured 990 individuals of eight rodent species a total of 2823 times. Because white-footed mice composed >79% of all captures, we focused on this species. Populations in experimental units increased 228% on average between 2001 and 2002, but there was no evidence of an effect of the mechanical treatment. From 2002 to 2003, all units again showed an average increase in relative population size, but increases were greater in MB than in the other treatments. Age structure and male to female ratio were not affected by the fuel reduction treatment. Average adult body weight declined from 2001 to 2002, but less so in M than in units that remained C in both years. The proportion of mice captured near coarse woody debris was similar to the proportion captured in open areas for all treatments, indicating that whitefooted mice did not use coarse woody debris preferentially or change their use patterns in response to fuel reduction treatments. Land managers should understand possible effects of different fuel reduction treatments on white-footed mouse populations, as they are an important component of the fauna and food chain of deciduous southern Appalachian forests.