Standing dead trees, or snags, are an important habitat element for many animal species. In many ecosystems, fire is a primary driver of snag population dynamics because it can both create and consume snags. The objective of this study was to examine how variation in two key components of the fire regime—fire-return interval and season of burn—affected population dynamics of snags. Using a factorial design, we exposed 1 ha plots, located within larger burn units in a south Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa Little and Dorman) forest, to prescribed fire applied at two intervals (approximately 3-year intervals vs. approximately 6-year intervals) and during two seasons (wet season vs. dry season) over a 12- to 13-year period. We found no consistent effect of fire season or frequency on the density of lightly to moderately decayed or heavily decayed snags, suggesting that variation in these elements of the fire regime at the scale we considered is relatively unimportant in the dynamics of snag populations. However, our confidence in these findings is limited by small sample sizes, potentially confounding effects of unmeasured variation in fire behavior and effects (e.g., intensity, severity, synergy with drought cycles) and wide variation in responses within a treatment level. The generalizing of our findings is also limited by the narrow range of treatment levels considered. Future experiments incorporating a wider range of fire regimes and directly quantifying fire intensity would prove useful in identifying more clearly the role of fire in shaping the dynamics of snag populations.
Additional publication details
The role of fire-return interval and season of burn in snag dynamics in a south Florida slash pine forest