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O'Donnell K.M.,University of Missouri | Thompson F.R.,Northern Research Station Usda Forest Service Columbia | Semlitsch R.D.,University of Missouri
Journal of Zoology | Year: 2016

Prescribed fire has become a commonly used forest management tool for reducing the occurrence of severe wildfires, decreasing fuel loads and reestablishing the historic ecological influences of fire. Investigating population-level wildlife responses to prescribed fire is important for evaluating the effects of fire management on animals, but in order to predict and simulate wildlife responses to potential management actions, mechanistic studies that elucidate individual-level responses are also necessary. We used radio-frequency identification to investigate individual-level responses of western slimy salamanders Plethodon albagula to prescribed fire. We compared the salamander home-range sizes [minimum convex polygons (MCP)], movement behaviors, and activity levels before and after prescribed fire using a randomized block experiment. We initiated the study at three plots in 2011, and added two new plots in 2012. We captured, tagged and released ≥38 salamanders at each plot from May 2011-May 2012 (total N = 205). We recorded 918 total recaptures of 142 unique salamanders; 31% of tagged salamanders were never recaptured. Across all years and treatments, only 14% of relocations were surface-active (i.e. visually confirmed) salamanders; the others were underground. Following prescribed fire, the surface-active proportion of recaptures was nearly seven times greater in control versus burned areas, which indicates that P. albagula respond to post-prescribed fire conditions by spending more time belowground. We did not find evidence of direct mortality of salamanders from fires; the proportion of known-alive individuals did not differ between treatments. Maximum daily displacement was 43.3% higher among burn-area than control-area salamanders, and MCP varied in a similar pattern; this may indicate salamanders were attempting to find more hospitable microenvironments or other resources, such as prey. Together, these individual-level observations corroborate our findings from a population-level study of a congeneric terrestrial salamander and contribute to our understanding of the behavioral mechanisms underlying population dynamics. © Published 2016.

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