Disparate patterns of taxonomic and functional predator diversity under different forest management regimes
Anthropogenic activities can alter natural disturbance regimes in ecosystems, and thereby affect the structure and function of biological diversity. As many of the world’s ecosystems are degraded beyond natural recovery, well-defined restoration goals are necessary to maintain the ecological processes that provide valuable ecosystem services. Utilizing both taxonomic and functional approaches, we investigate the impacts of forest management practices in structuring predator communities in pine forest ecosystems under different forest management regimes. We focus on snakes as an indicator taxon, across pine forest systems in eastern Texas characterized by forest management practice frequency. Specifically, we investigate the responses of snake assemblages in the context of restoration efforts, comparing and contrasting these responses between high practice frequency (i.e., short burn intervals and thinning) and low practice frequency treatments (i.e., long burn intervals and no thinning). Taxonomic diversity was greater in the high-frequency treatment than in the low-frequency treatment, while functional diversity was similar between treatments. Functional redundancy was observed to increase with increasing forest management practice frequency, despite differences in taxonomic diversity and community-weighted means of traits between predator assemblages in each treatment. Consequently, increased frequency of prescribed fires and thinning operations may lead to greater stability and resilience in pine-forest ecosystems. Our study contributes to the understanding of how anthropogenic disturbances influence community organization in terrestrial ecosystems. Furthermore, this study reveals the importance of ecological restoration as a tool in disturbance prone ecosystems, and highlights importance of incorporating a multi-dimensional approach to meet desired restoration goals and ensure the health of forest ecosystems.