MAMMALIAN COMMUNITY RESPONSES TO TIME SINCE BURNING ON A MANAGED ROLLING PLAINS LANDSCAPE
Fire is a natural disturbance in the Rolling Plains ecosystem. When applied properly, fire removes unwanted litter, decreases woody plant densities, and increases herbaceous plant production. Plant abundance, density, and biomass will differ by time since an area burns. Animals utilize plants for resources such as diet and cover. Therefore, it is expected that animals will use habitats differently depending on the time since a burn has occurred. This has the potential to help biologists and landowners to more efficiently manage native species. My objective was to look at the influence of time since burning on the activity of mammals. I used camera traps in 16 different locations with 0-15 years post-burn on Matador Wildlife Management Area in Cottle County, Texas, in 2018-2020. Cameras were spaced throughout the property in uplands, lowlands, and drainages. I calculated an activity index for each species for each month of data. Each species activity indices were then used to calculate Shannon Diversity Index in activity, total activity, and species evenness in activity. Species richness was also calculated per month per camera location. I then regressed the 5 most abundant species’ activity indices against days since burning. Community metrics were also regressed against days since burning. During the duration of the study 919,884 images were collected over 8,498 camera days. I detected 17 mammal species on the property. The 5 most abundant species were coyote (Canis latrans), wild boar (Sus scrofa), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), and cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.). Coyotes and wild boar activities were not statistically significantly influenced by days since burning. White-tailed deer increased in activity in areas with an increase in days since burning. Mule deer also increased in activities as days since burning increased. Cottontail activity decreased as days since burning increased. Total mammal activity increased as days since burning increased. Shannon Diversity Index for activity and species evenness of activity both decreased as days since burning increased. Finally, there was no statistical significance between days since burning and species richness. In conclusion, in the short-term, prescribed fire influenced mammalian activity on a managed Rolling Plains landscape. I suspect prolonged drought influenced the ability to detect clearer patterns. In conclusion, there is evidence that suggests species are using both recently burned areas and areas that have gone numerous years of growing seasons post-fire. This indicates a need for a mosaic management plan to best manage the entire community.