Reptile and amphibian response to season of burn in an upland hardwood forest
Growing-season burns are increasingly used in upland hardwood forest for multiple forest management goals. Many species of reptiles and amphibians are ground-dwelling, potentially increasing their vulnerability to prescribed fire, especially during the growing-season when they are most active. We used drift fences with pitfall traps to experimentally assess how herpetofaunal species and communities responded to early, growing-season burns, dormant-season burns, and unburned controls. We documented no adverse effects of either growingseason burns or dormant-season burns on any common herpetofaunal taxa, but capture rates of total, adult, and juvenile five-lined skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus) were greater following growing-season burns. Most measurements reflected little or transient change in forest structure. However, canopy cover decreased by an average of 16% in growing-season burns within four growing-seasons of burning, with some tree mortality in patches where fire temperature likely was hotter. Our study suggests that even modest reductions in canopy cover may positively affect relative abundance and reproductive success of P. fasciatus. We cautiously suggest that a higher mean ground-level fire temperature and the physiologically active condition of vegetation in growing-season burns interacted to damage a greater proportion of trees, resulting in more canopy thinning than in dormant-season burns. However, weather, fuel types and condition, vegetation structure, and topography interact to affect fire intensity and the level of mortality or damage to canopy trees within and among stands, regardless of season conducted. We suggest that herpetofaunal response, for the species we studied, is more closely linked to change in canopy cover than to season of burn per se.