The restoration of tallgrass prairies is often centered on reestablishing plants, with only minor efforts directed to the fauna that inhabit these areas. Small mammals play important ecological roles in many ecosystems, so understanding how management techniques such as the reintroduction of bison (Bison bison) and prescribed fire affect them can assist in a more comprehensive evaluation of restoration efforts in sites being actively restored. Our objective was to assess impacts of reintroduced bison and prescribed fire in restored prairies on small mammals in the first two years of bison presence. Small mammal abundance decreased with restoration age and time since fire. Small mammal diversity increased with restoration age and was slightly lower in sites where bison were present. Differences in diversity were driven primarily by prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster), and abundance was driven by deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). The mechanism for these impacts is likely habitat availability: fires remove litter and residual dead vegetation, which are important habitat for voles. The removal of litter and residual dead vegetation with fire usually results in a higher amount of bare ground being exposed relative to pre-fire conditions. Although bison impacts may continue to change over time as grazing effects accrue, we demonstrate relatively weak effects of this megaherbivore on small mammal communities. Our results underscore that utilizing bison reintroductions and prescribed fire in concert and employing them to maximize habitat heterogeneity is likely to best maintain small mammal diversity across restored prairies.
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Vol. 40 • No. 1