Grantee Research Project Results
Response of Forest Herpetofaunal Communities to Thinning and Prescribed Burning in Mixed Pine-Hardwood Forests in the William B. Bankhead National Forest, AlabamaEPA Grant Number: F5F21897
Title: Response of Forest Herpetofaunal Communities to Thinning and Prescribed Burning in Mixed Pine-Hardwood Forests in the William B. Bankhead National Forest, Alabama
Investigators: Sutton, William B.
Institution: Alabama A & M University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2005 through August 1, 2008
Project Amount: $98,702
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships
Forest management practices have the potential to alter forest ecosystems drastically. In the Southeast, forest herpetofaunal communities are very diverse and in some areas may be the most abundant vertebrate group. This project provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the effects of forest management practices (prescribed burning and tree thinning) upon forest herpetofaunal communities. Results from this study will allow forest managers to address factors that affect herpetofauna in combination with forest health goals. Experimental design for this project will consist of a two-way factorial randomized complete block design consisting of six forest treatments replicated four times across the landscape. Forest treatments will include three thinning levels (no thin, 11 m2ha-1 residual basal area, and 17 m2ha-1 residual basal area) and two burn treatments (no burn, burn). Drift fences with funnel and pitfall traps, coverboards, and artificial pools will be used to monitor herpetofauna at each treatment plot. Habitat characteristics will be determined at each treatment plot using line-transect surveys. Air and soil temperature will be monitored with HOBO© dataloggers, while soil moisture will be monitored with a digital soil probe during sampling periods.
Analysis of pre- and post-treatment herpetofaunal abundance and species richness will illustrate changes in herpetofaunal population variables. Comparisons between herpetofaunal species richness and habitat heterogeneity will allow determination of herpetofaunal habitat requirements. Two-way factorial analysis will not only illustrate thinning and burning effects, but also reveal interactions between these two treatment factors.
I predict that herpetofaunal species richness will be correlated with habitat heterogeneity and will be highest in plots with intermediate disturbance levels. In burned plots, a mphibian population variables will increase as understory cover and litter moisture are restored . Effects upon reptiles in burned plots will be species specific. Additional interactions will exist in plots receiving burning and thinning treatments.