Habitat selection of three rodents in a frequently burned boreal environment : productivity and habitat diversity
McDonald, Donald John.
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How does fire affect the plant and animal community of the boreal forest? This study attempted to examine the changes in plant composition and productivity, and small mammal demography brought about by fire in the northern boreal environment at Chick Lake, N.W.T. (65053fN, 128°14,W). Two 5*6 ha plots measuring 375m x 150m were selected for study during the summers of 1973 and 197^. One had been unburned for 120 years, the other was part of a fire which burned in the spring of 1969. Grids of 15m x 15m were established in each plot and meter square quadrats taken at each of the 250 grid intersections in order to determine plant composition and density. Aerial primary production was assessed by clipping and drying 80 samples of terminal new production for each species under investigation. Small mammal populations were sampled by placing a Sherman live trap at each grid intersection for ten days in every month. The two plots were similar in plant species composition which suggested that most regrowth in the burned area was from rootstocks which survived the fire. The plant data were submitted to a cluster analysis that revealed nine separate species associations, six of which occured in the burned area and eight of which occured in the control. These were subsequently treated as habitats for purposes of comparison with small mammal distributions. The burned area showed a greater productivity in flowers and fruits although total productivity in the control area was higher due to a large contribution from the non-vascular component. Maximum aerial productivity as dry wieght was measured at 157.1 g/m and 207.8 g/m for the burn and control respectively. Microtus pennsylvanicus and Clethrionomys rutilus were the two most common small mammals encountered; Microtus xanthognathus, Synaptomys borealis, and Phenacomys intermedius also occured in the area. Populations of M. pennsylvanicus and C. rutilus were high during the summer of 1973; however, M. pennsylvanicus was rare on the control but abundant on the burn, while C. rutilus was rare on the burn but abundant in the control. During the summer of 197^ populations declined, with the result that few voles of any species were caught in the burn while equal numbers of the two species were caught in the control. During the summer of 1973 M. pennsylvanicus showed a positive association to the most productive habitat type in the burn which was avoided by C. rutilus. In the control £• rutilus showed a similar positive association to the most productive habitat type which was avoided by M. pennsylvanicus. In all cases for the high population year of 1973# the two species never overlapped in habitat preference. When populations declined in 197^f "both species showed a strong association for the most productive habitat in the control. This would suggest that during a high population year, an abundant species can exclude competitors from a chosen habitat, but that this dominance decreases as population levels decrease. It is possible that M. pennsylvanicus is a more efficient competitor in a recently burned environment, while C. rutilus assumes this role once non-vascular regrowth becomes extensive.