Effects of short-rotation controlled burning on amphibians and reptiles in pine woodlands
Fire is being used increasingly as a forest management tool throughout North America, but its effects on reptiles and amphibians in many ecosystems are unclear. Open woodlands with understories dominated by herbaceous vegetation benefit many wildlife species, but maintaining these woodlands requires frequent burning. Although many studies have compared herpetofaunal responses in burned forests to unburned forests, fewer studies have examined changes in the herpetofaunal community during the interval between short-rotation prescribed burns. We examined changes in habitat and relative abundance of reptiles and amphibians each year within a 3-year burn cycle in nine restored pine woodlands of western Arkansas, USA. Overall numbers of reptiles did not change among the three burn years; however, capture rates for one snake species (southern black racer [Coluber constrictor priapus]) and three lizards differed among the three post-burn years. Overall capture rate for anurans and all amphibians combined was greatest the first year after burning, mostly because captures of dwarf American toads (Bufo americanus charlessmithi) were substantially greater in stands the first year after burning. Salamander captures were infrequent. Capture rates of most reptile and amphibian species declined over the 3-year sampling period. Only minor changes in capture rate occurred among the 36 species we evaluated during the intervening years between frequent burns. Capture rates for only two species were lower the first year after fire. Although not all herpetofaunal species benefited from frequent fire, most species appeared to tolerate the frequent burning necessary for maintaining open pine woodlands in the Ouachita Mountains.