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A literature review of insect responses to fire, compared to other conservation managements of open habitat

Abstract

This literature review concerns insect responses to fire, compared to other feasible and appropriate conservation managements of open habitats. Many insect groups decline markedly immediately after fire, with the magnitude of reduction related to the degree of exposure to the flames and mobility of the insect. Niche diversity is lower in recently burned habitat, and the rate of insect increase following fire also relates to the species' ability to gain access to the regrowing vegetation. Postburn flora can be quite attractive to some recolonizing insects, possibly to some degree a result of fire-caused insect mortality which provides plants with short-term release from insect herbivory. Insect declines may follow immediately after mowing, but usually of lesser degree and shorter duration than after a fire of comparable timing and size. Season and scale of cutting may affect how much and which species showed positive or negative responses. Cut areas offer the vegetational structure and composition preferred by some insects, but cutting – or cutting at certain scales, seasons, or frequencies – may also be unfavorable for some species. Heavy grazing results in niche and assemblage simplification. Nonetheless, some invertebrates prefer the short turfs and bare ground resulting from heavier grazing. Other species vary in whether they peak in abundance and diversity in intermediate, light, or no grazing. In comparisons of mowing/haying and grazing regimes of similar compatibility with maintenance of the same habitat types, responses of particular species and species groups varied as to whether they had a preference for one or the other. Characteristics associated with insect responses to fire related to the degree of exposure to lethal temperature and stress experienced in the post-fire environment, suitability of post-treatment vegetation as habitat, and ability to rebuild numbers in the site (from survivors and/or colonizers). These factors appear equally useful for explicating insect responses to other managements such as haying, mowing, and grazing. By contrast, the assumption that the most habitat-restricted species will be most adapted to ecological forces believed to be prevalent in that ecosystem appears less efficacious for predicting insect management preferences.

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Swengel, A.B. A literature review of insect responses to fire, compared to other conservation managements of open habitat. Biodiversity and Conservation 10, 1141–1169 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016683807033

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016683807033

  • barrens
  • burning
  • grassland
  • grazing
  • haying
  • mowing
  • savanna
  • wildfire