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Response of ants and spiders to prescribed fire in oak woodlands of California


Conservation managers of oak woodlands have been reintroducing fire both as an ecological process per se and to assist in restoring native plant communities. To increase our understanding of the impacts of reintroduced fire on ground-dwelling invertebrates we examined the response of ants and spiders to a late season (autumn) prescribed fire conducted in a blue oak (Quercus douglasii) woodland ecosystem in northern California. Twelve 100 m × 100 m plots were established, six plots received a burn treatment and the remaining six plots were unburned controls. Ants and spiders were sampled using pitfall traps left open continuously and collected approximately every 32 days. Sampling was conducted over a year, consisting of four pre-burn and nine post-burn collections. Abundance was analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA, which showed seed-harvester ants decreased significantly in the two months following the fire. Total spider abundance also showed a significant decrease in two months, although this did not occur immediately after the burn. One spider hunting guild, the ‘diurnal ambush’ group (Thomisidae) remained suppressed for up to nine months. Correspondence analysis measures of ant species abundance with environmental and vegetation variables (percent rock, bare ground, plant species richness and height of herbaceous vegetation) were higher than expected by chance, which assists in explaining some of the responses. Findings from this study revealed that the reintroduction of autumn burns has modest and short-term effect on the invertebrates sampled, suggesting that late season fires are compatible with other conservation goals for oak woodland ecosystems.

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