The University of Arizona

Impact of prescribed burning on vegetation and bird abundance at Matagorda Island, Texas.

J.T. van't. Hul, R.S. Lutz, N.E. Mathews


We measured the impact of prescribed summer and winter burns on vegetation characteristics and spring abundance of birds in a Spartina/Paspalum grassland at Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge and State Natural Area, Texas, 1993-94. We burned 8 (4 summer burn, 4 winter burn), 122-ha plots. We estimated bird abundance by surveying once a week from March through May at 12-16 fixed-radius point count stations in each plot. We measured forb and grass foliar cover, litter depth, visual obstruction, and woody and residual stem density at each point count station 6-10 months after burning and 18-22 months after burning and found few differences in vegetation between summer and winter burns. Litter depth, visual obstruction, and woody stem density values were greater on control plots 6 to 10 months post-burn. By 18 to 22 months post-burn, only litter depth and visual obstruction remained higher on control plots than on either burn treatment. At 6 to 10 months after burning, wrens were more abundant on control plots and sparrows were more abundant on the burned plots. By 18 to 22 months post-burn, wren abundance had increased on the burned plots, but was still highest on control plots. Sparrow abundance remained highest on burned plots 18-22 months after burning. Precipitation was higher in 1993 than 1994; we believe blackbirds responded more to annual precipitation differences than to burning treatment. In this coastal island grassland, wren abundance was highest on unburned plots and sparrow abundance was highest on burned plots. We suggest that land managers could burn at > 2 year intervals in this grassland without negatively impacting most resident bird species.


species abundance;wild birds;Spartina;environmental impact;Paspalum;grasslands;vegetation management;populations;prescribed burning;Texas

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