Evaluating the role of fire disturbance in structuring small reptile communities in temperate forests
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- Hu, Y., Urlus, J., Gillespie, G. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2013) 22: 1949. doi:10.1007/s10531-013-0519-z
Fire is an integral disturbance shaping forest community dynamics over large scales. However, understanding the relationship between fire induced habitat disturbance and biodiversity remain equivocal. Ecological theories including the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH) and the habitat accommodation model (HAM) offer predictive frameworks that could explain faunal responses to fire disturbances. We used an 80 year post-fire chronosequence to investigate small reptile community responses to fires in temperate forests across 74 sites. First, we evaluated if changes in species richness, abundance and evenness post-fire followed trends of prior predictions, including the IDH. Second, using competing models of fine scale habitat elements we evaluated the specific ways which fire influenced small reptiles. Third, we evaluated support for the HAM by examining compositional changes of reptile community post-fire. Relative abundance was positively correlated to age post-fire while richness and evenness showed no associations. The abundance trend was as expected based on the prior prediction of sustained population increase post-disturbance, but the trend for richness contradicted the prediction of highest diversity at intermediate levels of disturbance (according to IDH). Abundance changes were driven mainly by changes in overstorey, ground layer, and shelter, while richness and evenness did not associate with any vegetation parameter. Community composition was not strongly correlated to age since fire, thus support for the HAM was weak. Overall, in this ecosystem, frequent fire disturbances can be detrimental to small reptiles. Future studies utilizing approaches based on species traits could enhance our understanding of biodiversity patterns post-disturbance.