Managers of natural areas often employ controlled disturbances as a tool to manage plant and animal populations. This approach assumes that disturbances are responsible for the structure of biological communities and that appropriate application of the disturbance will ensure the persistence of native plants and animals. If species in a community do not respond predictably to variation in disturbance regime, then management strategies based on emulating disturbance may fail to ensure the persistence of all species. In this study, we examined the efficacy of using prescribed fire as a tool for managing populations of breeding and wintering birds in the pine rocklands of southern Florida. We found that variation in fire history had little effect on vegetation structure and no effect on bird abundance. Instead, vegetation structure was more closely associated with water-table elevation and soil type, whereas most of the observed variation in the structure of bird assemblages appeared to be a function of degree of urbanization in the landscape. That the structure and composition of bird assemblages was independent of variation in fire history suggests that manipulating the fire regime, at least within the range of variability observed in this study, is unlikely to prove effective as a means to manage bird populations. In general, our results argue for caution in assuming that a single process can be used to control the structure of biological communities, especially in systems where landscapes have been substantially altered by human activity.
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Vol. 32 • No. 3