We quantified changes in vegetation and small-mammal communities over a 3-year period in paired creek, forest, and field sites in the central Appalachian Mountains. Prescribed burns were applied to field sites in 2008. Data were collected at all sites during summers of 2008 (pre-burn for fields), 2009 (ca. 2–4 months post-burn for fields), and 2010 (ca. 14–16 months post-burn for fields). In 19,640 trap-nights across 3 years, we captured 605 individuals of 14 small-mammal species. Sørenson index showed substantial differences in mammal communities between 2008 pre-burn and 2009/2010 post-burn fields (<10% similarity for all pre- to post-burn comparisons). Creek and forest habitats showed markedly greater year-to-year similarities (46–82%). Unlike mammals, vegetation and habitat structure showed little change over time. Minimal changes in preand post-burn fields suggest that field vegetation at these sites recovered rapidly after the low-intensity surface fires. In contrast, fire appears to have had a profound effect on small-mammal communities in fields, as documented by dramatic temporal changes in species composition and abundance and little evidence of recovery after 16 months postburn. As many managed fields in this region are burned on 3-year rotations, this potential impact of prescribed fire on small-mammal communities is important. Additional studies are needed to determine whether small-mammal populations are strongly affected by conditions during prescribed burns (i.e., direct effects on species mortality and emigration), or if the changes we observed reflect natural cyclical patterns (annual or multi-annual periodicities) in these populations.
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Vol. 12 • No. 1