"Picture This: Wildlife Habitat Suitability Across a Chronosequence of Wildfire-Origin Stands at a Jack Pine Barrens "
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sandstone pavement barrens
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Abstract"Research on wildlife’s response to wildfire in fire-dependent pine barrens is limited. In the northeastern United States, pine barrens ecosystems are often relatively small landscape patches nested within a matrix of northern hardwood forest with low burn frequency. Thus, pine barrens not only represent a unique habitat type for wildlife at the landscape scale, but also may contain varied forest patches of differing stand age and structure based on their disturbance history. Wildlife may, in turn, respond in their use of this habitat mosaic that is experiencing patch-level successional differences in forest structure and composition since the wildfire disturbance. The objective of this study was to quantify wildlife habitat suitability across a fire-dependent Pinus banksiana (Jack Pine) sandstone pavement barrens in northeastern New York. The Altona Flat Rock is an ~2000 ha pine barrens dominated by Jack Pine interspersed with, and surrounded by, northern hardwood forest. Over the past century areas of the Flat Rock have experienced wildfire in 1919, 1940, 1957, and most recently 2018, resulting in a chronosequence of stand-origin ages. Beginning in September 2022, we established a network of twenty 1km 2 grid-cells spanning the Flat Rock and surrounding hardwood forest. We positioned a camera trap in the center of each grid cell to continuously monitor wildlife. Additionally, we randomly selected three locations within each grid cell to determine forest structural attributes (e.g., density, basal area, canopy closure, understory composition, and abundance of coarse woody debris) and stand age. Preliminary results show that Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed Deer), Canis latrans (Coyote), Lynx rufus (Bobcat), and Lepus americanus (Snowshoe Hare) are some of the most frequent occurrences, with White-tailed Deer, in particular, having been found at every camera site at high abundances. We aim to continue monitoring camera traps over the course of 2023. Wildlife occurrence data will be used in conjunction with forest structure data to build species-specific occupancy models. These results will provide critical information for ecologically sound management (i.e., frequency and extent of burning) of this globally rare pine barrens."
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