High severity wildfires had no impact on total number of detected resident birds.
Wildfires resulted in changes to winter bird species richness and foraging guilds.
Wildfires resulted in changes to summer and winter species-level bird community composition.
High severity forest fires are increasing in large areas of the southern and western United States as the climate becomes warmer and drier. Given their strong roles in ecosystem dynamics, documenting the response of bird communities to wildfires is important for improving our understanding and management of post-wildfire ecosystems. However, because wildfires are unplanned events, relatively few studies have been conducted to assess local-scale impacts on forest bird communities. In this study, we had the opportunity to use a before-after, control-impact (BACI) approach to assess the response of resident birds to high severity wildfires that occurred in the Lost Pines ecoregion of Texas in September and October 2011. We replicated a previous study using point count surveys to assess summer and winter bird community changes ca. 1 year after the wildfires. We found that total number of detected individuals did not change following the wildfires, but winter bird species richness increased in burned habitat. Changes were apparent at the foraging guild-level for the winter bird community, with an increase in aerial insectivores and decrease in bark insectivores. Summer and winter bird community composition changes were apparent at the species-level and generally agreed with species-specific habitat preferences. For example, species such as eastern bluebirds and chipping sparrows that prefer open woodlands were positively associated with burned habitat. Our results provide quantitative evidence that high severity forest fires increased habitat suitability for many resident bird species. At the landscape-scale, fire-induced increases in habitat heterogeneity could result in higher bird diversity in the Lost Pines ecoregion. We expect bird community composition will be dynamic in the Lost Pines ecoregion over the next few decades as the burned habitat continues to change through successional processes and post-fire management actions.
Corresponding author at: Institute for Applied Ecosystem Studies, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 5985 County Highway K, Rhinelander, WI 54501, USA. Tel.: +1 210 319 8672.