Relationships among burn severity, forest canopy structure and bat activity from spring burns in oak-hickory forests

Michael J. Lacki, Luke E. Dodd, Nicholas S. Skowronski, Matthew B. Dickinson, Lynne K. Rieske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The extent to which prescribed fires affect forest structure and habitats of vertebrate species is an important question for land managers tasked with balancing potentially conflicting objectives of vegetation and wildlife management. Many insectivorous bats forage for insect prey in forested habitats, serving as the primary predators of nocturnal forest insects, and are potentially affected by structural changes in forests resulting from prescribed fires. We compared forest-stand characteristics of temperate oak-hickory forests, as measured with airborne laser scanning (light detection and ranging, LiDAR), with categorical estimates of burn severity from prescribed fires as derived from Landsat data and field-based Composite Burn Indices, and used acoustic monitoring to quantify activity of insectivorous bats in association with varying degrees of burn severity (unburned habitat, low severity and medium severity). Forest-stand characteristics showed greatest separation between low-severity and medium-severity classes, with gap index, i.e. open-air space, increasing with degree of burn severity. Greater mid-storey density, over-storey density and proportion of vegetation in the understorey occurred in unburned habitat. Activity of bats did not differ with burn severity for high-frequency (clutter-adapted or closed-space foragers) or low-frequency (edge or open-space foragers) bats. Results indicate that differing degrees of burn severity from prescribed fires produced spatial variation in canopy structure within stands; however, bats demonstrated no shifts in activity levels to this variation in canopy structure, suggesting prescribed fire during the dormant season, used as a management practice targeting desired changes in vegetation, is compatible with sustaining foraging habitat of insectivorous bats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-972
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture, Joint Fire Sciences Program, and by the College of Agriculture, University of Kentucky. An earlier, unedited version of some of these data and findings are included within a final report to the Joint Fire Sciences Program. The report can be found at: All animal handling procedures used in association with this study were approved by the University of Kentucky Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC number 2010–0660). We thank S. Thomas and R. Toomey of the National Park Service for assistance, suggestions and logistical support. This investigation is connected with a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (KAES number 16–09–016) and is published with the approval of the Director.


  • Eptesicus
  • Lasionycteris
  • Lasiurus
  • LiDAR
  • Myotis
  • Nycticeius
  • Perimyotis
  • clutter-adapted foragers
  • foraging activity
  • habitat structure
  • insectivorous bats
  • open-space foragers
  • prescribed fire.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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