Entries in rare species (7)


Herpetofauna distribution across habitat gradients

In the Upper Midwest, There is limited quantitative information as to how the herpetofauna community (i.e., reptiles and amphibians, hereafter herp community) varies along the grassland – savanna- forest gradient. This lack of baseline data makes it difficult to determine the impacts of management activities, including prescribed fire.


The authors of this study surveyed the herp community along a prairie to forest gradient. Sites were established in northwest Indiana in 1999. Drift fence arrays with funnel traps were set up at 25 sites. To determine how the herp community responded to fire and changes in vegetation structures site variables were measured at each array. Site variables included environmental variables (e.g., % cover bare ground, stem density, canopy cover) and fire history (e.g., time since last fire).


There were opposing effects of fire on the herp community, with some species having strongly positive responses and other species strongly negative. The authors suggest that this pattern is the result of frequent fire having a generally positive effect on herps by maintaining habitat being coupled with short term negative impacts of prescribed fire (e.g. decreased cover). Additionally, diversity in the habitat requirements of species, for example some reptiles seek out open areas while others avoid them, can lead to opposing trends in the data.


The complexities of these patterns demonstrate the value in assessing the herp community as a whole and over time. If research or monitoring efforts are focused on a single species or habitat type, the results may not represent the broader herp community or predict the response in neighboring habitat types.

Management Implications
  • The habitat needs of reptiles and amphibians differ, leading to differences in the herp community across a grassland to forest habitat gradient
  • Maintaining diverse habitats, with a range of fire histories, can support a wider range of habitat needs
  • Herpetofauna communities are most diverse in savanna habitats

For further summary of  the study's results and implications for management, view or download a PDF version of the research brief: "Herpetofauna distribution across habitat gradients." 

The original paper is:

Grundel, Ralph, David A Beamer, Gary A. Glowacki, Krystalnn J. Frohnapple, Noel B. Pavlovic. 2015. Opposing responses to ecological gradients structure amphibian and reptile communities across a temperate grassland-savanna-forest landscape. Biodiversity Conservation 24:1089-1108.


Response of herpetofauna to patch burn grazing

There is little information as to how patch burn grazing impacts herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians, hereafter herps). This study was conducted near Nevada, Missouri, to determine how herps responded to fire, cattle grazing, and patch burn grazing. The author hypothesized that fire and cattle grazing would have a negative impact on herps (e.g., reduced species richness, increased patch extinction, greater mortality).


Patches of burn only, graze only, patch burn grazing, and control were established on the landscape for this experiment. Herpetofauna surveys were conducted in 2011 and 2012, before and after patch burn grazing. Additionally, vegetation in two habitat types (aquatic and riparian) and water quality were measured.


The study found that patch burn grazing may increase reptile species richness as this management approach creates a variety of habitat patches across a site. There was no response in the amphibian community to treatments. This study evaluated short term effects of fire and grazing, and continued monitoring would be needed to detect if there were long term positive or negative impacts of patch burn grazing on the reptile and amphibian community.


Management Implications
  • Patch burn grazing increased heterogeneity of landscape, and was associated with increased reptile diversity
  • Burn only treatments did not influence water quality
  • Cattle had a negative impact on water quality, which could lead to negative impacts on amphibian eggs
  • Adult amphibians returned to the same streams to breed despite patch-burn grazing

For further summary of  the study's results and implications for management, view or download a PDF version of the research brief: "Response of herpetofauna to patch burn grazing"

The original paper is:

Larson, Danelle, M. 2014. Grassland fire and cattle grazing regulate reptile and amphibian assembly among patches. Environmental Management 54:1434-1444.


Fifty years of prairie fire – a case study from Iowa

Small, isolated prairie remnants often show a decline in native species over time, and their sustainability is questioned. Given the rarity of tallgrass prairie in the upper Midwest, it is important to monitor changes over time to determine the long term impacts of land management.

This case study sought to document changes in the vegetation at Kalsow Prairie, one of the largest virgin prairies remaining in Iowa. Management at Kalsow, prior to 1950, was predominantly annual summer mowing, after 1950 management was gradually shifted to spring burning.

Implications for managers:

  • Managing the same way over time (e.g., burning in the spring every 2 years) may not maximize biodiversity of the plant community due to the strong selection pressure.
  • Larger isolated prairie sites may be less prone to establishment of non-native species when managed with fire
  • Prescribed fire may stabilize prairie communities, and keep non-native species from establishing

For further summary of the study's results and implications for management, view or download a PDF version of the research brief: "Fifty years of prairie fire – a case study from Iowa."

The original paper is:


Dornbush, Mathew E. 2004 Plant community changes following fifty-years of management at Kalsow Prairie Preserve, Iowa, U.S.A. American Midland Naturalist 151:241-250.



At sites in Minnesota where the western prairie fringed orchid (WPFO) occurs managers face the challenge of timing burns to avoid damaging WPFO flowers while also controlling invasive smooth brome. This study used data collected by citizen scientists to track flowering of WPFO and development of smooth brome to determine the seasonal timing of prescribed fires.

Implications for managers:

  • Data on timing of plant development can be used to plan management activities
  • Fall prescribed fires may be effective at controlling smooth brome, and have less negative impact on western prairie fringe orchid
  • Citizen scientists can collect meaningful data to inform management decisions

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can view or download a PDF version of "Timing prescribed fire to meet multiple objectives - An exampe from Minnesota." 

This research brief for research managers summarizes the following peer-reviewed publication:

Lori A. Biederman, Judith Beckman, Jeanne Prekker, Derek Anderson, Nancy P. Sather, Rolf Dahle. 2014. Phenological monitoring aids habitat management of threatened plant. Natural Areas Journal 34:105-110.

Can burning benefit insects in isolated prairies?

The lack of long term data looking at how invertebrates respond to prescribed fire led Ron Panzer to conduct a six year study spanning three states. Invertebrates were grouped by their dependence on remnant prairie sites and populations tracked through multiple burns to determine rates of recovery. 

Implications for Management:

  • Annual fires may not allow a long enough recovery time for a minority subset of prairie insects
  • Burning every 2-3 years may balance concerns over insect recovery with other conservation goals (e.g., plants, birds)
  • Remnant dependent insects recover at the same rate as remnant independent insects

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can view or download a PDF version of "Can burning benefit insects in isolated prairies?

This research brief for research managers summarizes the following peer-reviewed publication:

Ron Panzer. 2002. Compatibility of prescribed burning with the conservation of insects in small, isolated, prairie reserves. Conservation Biology 16:1296-1307.



Prairie Burn Management and Native Species Diversity

The varying effects of fire frequency on native prairies continues to be the subject of study and interest among restorationists and ecologists in the Upper Midwest. This study, in prairie remnants in the eastern tallgrass prairie region, took a close look at species composition changes over five decades.

Among several crucial findings, the authors cautioned against site monitoring protocols based on plant species diversity, which in this resurvey remained stable--despite the clear shift toward common species and away from conservative specialist species.

Management Implications

  • Continue to burn remnants. A burn regime of 4-17 fires in 20 years had the greatest influence on keeping species composition similar to 1950.
  • Put monitoring emphasis on rare species rather than species diversity, as diversity does not always indicate a decrease in rare species.
  • Managers may not need to go to great effort to remove all woody species. The most stable prairies had less than 50% canopy cover.

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can view or download a PDF version of "Prairie Burn Management and Native Species Diversity."

This research brief for research managers summarizes the following peer-reviewed publication:

Milbauer, M. L., and M. K. Leach. 2007. Influence of species pool, fire history, and woody canopy on plant species density and composition in tallgrass prairie. J. Torrey Bot. Soc. 134: 53–62. 2007.



Oak Savanna Restoration: Which bird species increase with changes?

These two studies examined how bird communities respond to restoration of oak barrens and savannas. In both cases bird communities were not the focus of restoration efforts, but did respond to the altered vegetation.

For a summary of the study's results and implications for management, you can download a PDF version of the research brief: "Can oak savanna restorations for other species benefit bird communities?"

Management Implications

  • Using prescribed fire to restore oak savannas and barrens also maintains habitat for birds, like the Red-headed Woodpecker, that are species of concern
  • Management activities focused on Karner blue butterflies can also benefit avian species of concern
  • Small restored patches can benefit bird communities, especially when located close to existing oak savanna and barren patches

This research brief for resource managers reviews the following peer-reviewed publications :

Jeffrey D. Brawn. 2006. Effects of restoring oak savannas on bird communities and populations. Conservation Biology 20:460-469. 

Eric M. Wood, Anna M. Pidgeon, Claudio Grattion, Timothy T. Wilder. 2011. Effects of oak barrens habitat management for Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides samuelis) on the avian community. Biological Conservation 144:3117-3126.