Arthropod response to prescription burning at the soil-litter interface in oak-pine forests

T. W. Coleman, L. K. Rieske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In the southeastern U.S., forest managers are returning repetitive fire to the landscape to facilitate regeneration of desirable species. The increased use of prescribed fire generates questions regarding the effects of single- and multiple-burning events on leaf-litter and ground-dwelling arthropods, and recovery of these arthropods following fire disturbance. In this study, the effects of early season single- and multiple-burns were assessed on leaf-litter arthropods and ground-dwelling arthropods in oak-pine forests for two growing seasons following fire disturbance. Arthropods were sampled by leaf-litter extraction and pitfall trapping, where pitfall trapping was restricted to single-burned areas. For each sampling method, arthropod abundance, diversity, richness, and evenness were calculated at the family or ordinal level. Forest characteristics were also surveyed to measure impacts from the prescribed fires and to assess variability in the forest environment. Leaf-litter arthropod abundance was devastated by burning, and resurgence of populations was not evident until the second growing season in the multiple-burned areas. In single-burned plots, litter arthropod abundance remained low for the duration of the study possibly due to greater fire intensity relative to the multiple-burn plots. Leaf-litter arthropod diversity was not affected by either burn regime. Burning decreased leaf-litter arthropod richness and increased leaf-litter arthropod evenness, but these effects were only marginally significant. Prescription burning had no impact on ground-dwelling arthropod abundance, diversity, or richness, but arthropod community evenness increased following the single-burn disturbance. In the principal components analysis (PCA), burning was a major gradient explaining 46% of the variation in the data. Burning decreased leaf-litter cover and depth and lower canopy cover, and contributed to the variance explained by PCA. Our data confirm that prescription burning is accomplishing its management goal of removing undesirable lower-canopy cover in the mixed hardwood forests of the Cumberland Plateau. Following early-season, low-intensity burns, recovery of leaf-litter arthropods was not evident until two-growing seasons after fire disturbance. Any differences we observed could be attributed to lower fire intensity in forests that are repeatedly burned. Prescribed burns should be utilized on a rotation greater than 2 years to allow resurgence of the leaf-litter arthropod community and recovery of the leaf-litter habitat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-60
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Micah Anderson, Joe Falco, Leslie Foss, Shelly Kellogg, and Nathan Kunze for their assistance with arthropod sampling and sample processing, Marie Gantz and Jason Periatt for assistance in statistical assistance, and three anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. This research was supported by McIntire Stennis funds from the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, and is published as Experiment Station Project 05-08-117.


  • Diversity
  • Ground-dwelling arthropods
  • Leaf-litter arthropods
  • Oak-pine forests
  • Principal components analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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