Effects of fire on birds in south Florida pinelands

Fire has shaped many south Florida ecosystems, yet perhaps in no other ecosystem is fire as important as in the pine rocklands and pine flatwoods. Pine flatwoods are a common forest type throughout Florida, but pine rocklands are a globally imperiled ecosystem found only in parts of south Florida. Both habitats have suffered significant habitat loss been degraded by altered hydrology and changes in the frequency, intensity, and extent of fire. Preserving these ecosystems’ rich biological diversity requires the development of ecologically sound fire management practices that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire while maintaining the conditions upon which the plants and animals of these ecosystems depend.

Effects of fire on birds in south Florida pinelands

From 2005 – 2008, Ecostudies Institute, through grants from the Joint Fire Science Program and Everglades National Park, conducted a study of how plants, breeding birds, and wintering birds in pine rocklands responded to variation in fire and water levels. We conducted bird surveys and collected vegetation, fire, and hydrology data from 441 sampling points established at seven sites dominated by south Florida slash pine forest, on lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Miami-Dade County. We also investigated the role of fire in snag dynamics as part of a large-scale experimental study in Big Cypress National Preserve. The goal of this research was to better understand how fire and water shape biological diversity in the pine forests of southern Florida and to translate these findings into specific and actionable objectives for land managers.

Effects of fire on birds in south Florida pinelands

Key findings

  • Relatively wet areas support different plant and bird assemblages than relatively dry areas.
  • Fire history was also an important determinant of plant and bird assemblages. Areas burned more recently and frequently tended to contain short, sparse understories and had more standing dead trees, an important component of habitat for several bird species.
  • No bird species showed a positive association with fire-suppressed conditions, although most species were able to tolerate fire-return intervals as long as 5 years without any significant effect on abundance.
  •  Neither the length of time between prescribed burns nor the season in which fires were ignited had consistent effects on rates of survival or recruitment of snags.
  • More research is needed to refine our understanding of that factors (vegetation, fire, and hydrology) that drive patterns of abundance in wintering and breeding bird communities.

Publications and Reports

  •  Lloyd, J. D., G. L. Slater, and J. R. Snyder. 2012. The role of fire-return interval and season of burn in snag dynamics in a south Florida slash pine forest. Fire Ecology 8:18-31. {PDF}
  • Lloyd, J. D., and G. L. Slater. 2012. Fire history and the structure of pine-rockland bird assemblages. Natural Areas Journal 32:247-259. {PDF}
  • Lloyd, J. D. and G. L. Slater. 2011. Influence of fire and water regimes on pineland bird assemblages. Natural Areas Journal 31:270-282. {PDF}
  • Lloyd, J. D. and G. L. Slater. 2009. Effects of fuel treatments and wildfire on the avifauna of the pine rockland ecosystem in southern Florida. Final report to Everglades National Park and Joint Fire Science Program. {PDF}

Project Supporters

Effects of fire on birds in south Florida pinelands

Effects of fire on birds in south Florida pinelands