Prescribed fire has increasingly been used to manage and restore eastern oak (Quercus spp.) forests. Fire has the potential to influence habitat use by forest-dwelling small mammals, including species of conservation concern such as the Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister). Thus, an understanding of how Allegheny woodrats respond to habitat changes caused by fire is of increasing importance. We investigated the effects of prescribed fire on a population of Allegheny woodrats in a mixed-oak forest in south-central Pennsylvania. We surveyed 18 rock outcrops for Allegheny woodrats using remote game cameras in September–October 2019. We fit single-season occupancy models in Program PRESENCE to examine the effects of site covariates related to burn history (burned or unburned) and burn frequency (number of burns), topography, and vegetation structure and composition on occupancy (Ψ) of Allegheny woodrats while accounting for imperfect detection (p). In 252 camera trap-nights, we recorded 356 detections of Allegheny woodrats at 50% of sites surveyed. Top-ranked occupancy models (ΔAICc ≤ 2) indicated that Allegheny woodrat occupancy was positively related to burn frequency, overstory tree species richness, and elevation; however, the effects of these covariates were not significant. Our results suggest that low-intensity prescribed fire implemented at moderate (3–5 y) return intervals in oak forests is unlikely to impact Allegheny woodrat populations, but the effects of more frequent and intense fires remain unknown. Additional studies are needed to determine how Allegheny woodrats respond to post-fire vegetation regrowth and recovery over time.
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Vol. 41 • No. 2