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Bird assemblage response to restoration of fire‐suppressed longleaf pine sandhills

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Steen, David A.
Conner, L. M.
Smith, Lora L.
Provencher, Louis
Hiers, J. Kevin
Pokswinski, Scott
Helms, Brian S.
Guyer, Craig


The ecological restoration of fire‐suppressed habitats may require a multifaceted approach. Removal of hardwood trees together with reintroduction of fire has been suggested as a method of restoring fire‐suppressed longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests; however, this strategy, although widespread, has not been evaluated on large spatial and temporal scales. We used a landscape‐scale experimental design to examine how bird assemblages in fire‐suppressed longleaf pine sandhills responded to fire alone or fire following mechanical removal or herbicide application to reduce hardwood levels. Individual treatments were compared to fire‐suppressed controls and reference sites. After initial treatment, all sites were managed with prescribed fire, on an approximately two‐ to three‐year interval, for over a decade. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordinations suggested that avian assemblages on sites that experienced any form of hardwood removal differed from assemblages on both fire‐suppressed sites and reference sites 3–4 years after treatment (i.e., early posttreatment). After >10 years of prescribed burning on all sites (i.e., late posttreatment), only assemblages at sites treated with herbicide were indistinguishable from assemblages at reference sites. By the end of the study, individual species that were once indicators of reference sites no longer contributed to making reference sites unique. Occupancy modeling of these indicator species also demonstrated increasing similarity across treatments over time. Overall, although we documented long‐term and variable assemblage‐level change, our results indicate occupancy for birds considered longleaf pine specialists was similar at treatment and reference sites after over a decade of prescribed burning, regardless of initial method of hardwood removal. In other words, based on the response of species highly associated with the habitat, we found no justification for the added cost and effort of fire surrogates; fire alone was sufficient to restore these species.