Abstract - The Effect of Fire on Bird and Small Mammal Communities in the Grasslands of Wind Cave National Park

Forde, Jon D. 1983. The Effect of Fire on Bird and Small Mammal Communities in the Grasslands of Wind Cave National Park. M.S. Thesis. Michigan Technological University. 132+ p.


An evaluation of the impact of prescribed burning treatments on vertebrate populations in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota was conducted from 1980 to 1983. This study assessed the effect of fire on the grassland vegetation and on the breeding populations of birds and small mammals within the Park.

The vegetative analysis showed immediate reductions in perennial species and the amount of dead material present after burning with a resulting increase in both two years later. Bare ground-coverage increased immediately after the fire, indicating a loss of protective cover for birds and small mammals. However, after two years following the burns, bare ground estimates were below the pre-burn levels.

Twenty-two species of bird were observed on the WCNP grasslands during late May and June. Principle components of the grasslands avifauna were the grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), and vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus). The grasshopper sparrow was the only bird significantly affected (p<0.05) by the burning treatments, decreasing in numbers immediately after the fire. Duration of the reduced numbers appears to last no longer than two or three breeding seasons after treatment. Sharp-tailed grouse (Pediocetes phasianellus), using a lek on burned site showed no adverse effects as a result of spring burning.

Two small mammal sampling techniques were used in the Park, with the prairie deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus bairdii) and thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) accounting for the majority of observations during the census work. Prescribed burning resulted in immediate increases in deer mice densities while ground squirrel densities generally decreased. The increased deer mice density lasted only one season dropping below pre-burn figures two years after the fire.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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