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Changes in Avian Diversity Post-Wildfire in a Southeastern Deciduous Forest: Flipper Bend Woods, Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Mary Elizabeth Feely1,* and David Aborn1

1Department of Environmental Science, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN 37403. *Corresponding author.

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 22, Issue 3 (2023): 445–458

In eastern deciduous forests, fire-disturbance and its ecological implications haven’t been heavily studied. In Tennessee, an intensely burned plot of forest (2016) presented a unique opportunity to analyze successional habitat regrowth 2–3 years after a wildfire occurred. To examine post-fire recovery, we observed the diversity of avian species in 1 burned site (1-km transect) and 1 unburned site (690-m transect) during 2018–2019. We used line-transects to examine avian diversity and performed a vegetation analysis to compare the sites. Our results showed that though the unburned site was higher in avian diversity (mean Shannon diversity: 2.844 in unburned vs. 2.521 in burned), the burned site appeared to be suitable habitat for multiple disturbance-dependent avian species. Bird species associated with low to medium vegetation heights and overstory heights and low residual basal areas in early successional forests, such as Setophaga discolor (Prairie Warbler), Passerina cyanea (Indigo Bunting), and Icteria virens (Yellow-breasted Chat), were found only in the burned site, suggesting the fire created suitable habitat for these species, with its average canopy height of 3.55 m and canopy coverage of 18.75%.This study supports the need for greater fire research in Eastern deciduous forests. The results suggest regular fires could create patches of habitats that benefit struggling species of disturbance-dependent birds in this region.

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