The impact of a late winter prescribed fire on litter and surface dwelling arthropods was assessed over two years in a mixed mesophytic forest of eastern Kentucky. On two sites, three burned plots were established adjacent to three non-burned plots. Canopy cover, herbaceous cover, and litter cover and depth were measured early-, mid-, and late-season in both years to characterize changes in vegetation. Arthropods were sampled from three sample stations located at each plot center using large capacity pitfall traps and leaf litter samples extracted with Berlese funnels. Sampling occurred at 14 d intervals during the post-burn season and at 60 d intervals one year post-burn.
Burning caused significant changes in the plant community, including a 56% reduction in herbaceous ground cover, an 85% reduction in leaf litter cover, and a 90% reduction in litter depth.
Seventeen taxa were collected in pitfall traps. Formicidae and Collembola were most abundant. Burning initially reduced ant abundance in pitfall traps by 53%. This reduction persisted throughout the post-burn year. In contrast, there was a short-term, transitory increase of 38% of collembolan activity in pitfall traps.
Nineteen taxa were identified in the litter samples. Mites were the most abundant, followed by collembolans. Initial fire-induced mortality of litter arthropods was 64%, including a 64% reduction of mites and a 69% reduction of collembolans. Litter arthropod abundance did not recover one year post-burn.
Prescribed fire significantly impacts the forest floor community, and recovery may be slow.
Keywords: prescribed fire, soil arthropods
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