At the broadest spatial scales, the distribution of south Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa Little and Dorman) is limited by variation in fire and hydrological regimes, occurring only in relatively dry areas and succeeding to hardwood hammocks when fire is absent. These same forces also appear important in driving smaller-scale variation in the structure and composition of slash-pine forests. Important gaps remain, however, in our understanding of how plants and animals in slash-pine ecosystems respond to variation in fire and hydrological regimes. We addressed this issue for one taxon — landbirds — by estimating density at 285 locations in southwest Florida that differed in fire history and water-table elevation. Bird densities during the breeding season and during the winter did not vary appreciably as a function of either fire history or water-table elevation, and neither did vegetation structure at our survey locations. Birds and plants in this fire-climax forest are both resilient and resistant to changes brought about by frequent, low-intensity fire, and we suspect that significant effects of variation in fire history are only observable under extreme conditions (e.g., complete fire suppression) outside of the range of variation that we sampled. Water-table elevation had a stronger, albeit still small, effect on bird densities and vegetation structure, but the effects were difficult to generalize. Sampling across a broader range of hydrological conditions may yield valuable insight into the structure of pineland bird assemblages, especially given the likelihood that ecosystem restoration efforts in south Florida will produce substantial changes in water-table elevation.
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Vol. 31 • No. 3