Science & Technology

What happens to wildlife when a large wildfire cuts through the landscape?

On July 24, 2018, black-tailed deer appeared on wildlife cameras a few days before flames from the Mendoshino Complex Fire burned the landscape, burning more than half of the University of California Hopland Research Expansion Center.Credits: Brashares Lab, University of California, Berkeley

After a massive California wildfire, the deer went home while the trees were “still smoldering.”

Many animals have adapted to live with past wildfires, which are smaller, more frequent, and have balanced ecosystems throughout the west, but animals are today’s unprecedented wildfires. It is unknown to scientists how to deal with the fire. Wildfires are bigger and more serious than they used to be, with more than a century of fire control and climate change.

In rare luck University of Washington, NS University of California, Berkeley, And the University of California, Santa Barbara were able to track a group of Oglogica during and after the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire, California’s third-largest wildfire. Burning more than 450,000 acres in Northern California, Megafire burned on half of the established research sites and was able to record pre-fire, during-fire, and post-fire deer movements and feeding patterns.Results were published in the journal today (October 28, 2021) Ecology and evolution..

Black-tailed deer wearing GPS tracking color

A few months after the 2018 Mendoshino Complex fire broke out, black-tailed deer wearing GPS tracking collars can be seen on the survey site’s wildlife cameras.Credits: Brashares Lab, University of California, Berkeley

“There isn’t much information about what animals do while the flames are burning, or right after a wildfire,” said Katrin Gainer, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. I am. University of California, Santa Barbara. “It was a kind of happy accident to be able to see what these animals were doing during and shortly after the wildfire, when the landscape was still desolate.”

The researchers were surprised at what they learned. Of the 18 deer surveyed, all survived. The deer, who had to escape from the flames, went home despite some areas of the landscape burning completely and no plants to eat. Most of the deer went home within hours of the fire while the trees were still smoldering.

When studying how animals react to extreme and unpredictable events such as megafires, it is rare to have access to this location from previously placed wildlife cameras or GPS colors.

Black-tailed deer after a mountain fire

Black-tailed deer at the Hopland Research Expansion Center at the University of California, seen after the 2018 Mendoshino Complex fire. Deer in the burned area had to work harder to find green vegetation and travel farther, and researchers noticed that some animals were ill. Credit: Samantha Kreling

“Few studies have aimed at understanding the short-term and immediate response of animals to wildfires. When a fire is wiped out and the landscape changes dramatically, its early effects are underestimated and published. “It’s not in the literature,” said Samantha Clering, a co-author who is a PhD student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forestry Sciences.

The study was conducted northwest of Sacramento at the Hopland Research Expansion Center at the University of California, where researchers were studying the movement of black-tailed deer. Prior to the start of the Mendocino Complex Fire, the team had placed tracking collars on 18 deer and dozens of moving wildlife cameras throughout the area.

Deer GPS truck

The map shows the route of one deer (J3) before, during, and after the Mendoshino Complex fire. In the event of a fire, they will temporarily leave the study area and then return shortly thereafter.Credits: Rebecca Gourley / University of Washington

On July 27, 2018, a Hopland-based research team saw smoke nearby. Within a few hours, a large flame blew through and they were told to leave immediately and not return to their accommodation. In total, more than half of the research center’s land was destroyed by the Mendoshino Complex fire, California’s largest wildfire at the time.

Clering, who needed data from the University of California, Berkeley undergraduate thesis site, decided to pivot. So, in the words of her collaborator, she decided to “turn lemons into lemonade.” With wildlife tracking techniques and photography, Kreling and co-authors instead said how deer change their use of space during and shortly after a wildfire-like turmoil, and this event they I was able to investigate how it affected my physical condition and survival.


This video shows the route of one deer (J3) before, during, and after the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire. Animals temporarily leave the study area during a fire and then return shortly thereafter.Credits: Rebecca Gourley / University of Washington

“Looking at the dramatic changes in the landscape, I wondered what the impact of such an event would be on land animals,” Clering said. increase. “Putting the infrastructure in place was very helpful in confirming what happened before, compared to what happened later.”

Despite the challenge of eating less, all deer returned shortly after the fire. Deer in the burned area had to work harder to find green vegetation and travel farther, and researchers noticed some illness in these animals. Still, loyalty to their home is a tactic that seems to have helped this species survive the wildfire.

Fawn and black-tailed deer after a mountain fire

Black-tailed deer with fawns seen after the 2018 Mendoshino Complex fire. Credit: Samantha Kreling

It is unclear whether this home loyalty strategy will be useful or harmful in the future. Small wildfires drive the growth of new vegetation — delicious for deer — but large wildfires can actually destroy seed banks, which reduces the amount of edible plants. In this case, some of the deer who had to expand their home range to eat did so at the expense of their physical condition.

“These deer have clearly evolved this behavioral strategy that worked for them, but the big question mark is that as the fire gets more intense and frequent, this behavior actually traps animals in these habitats. Has it happened before in their evolutionary history, “Gainer said.

The particular patterns observed in these deer are likely not applicable to other large mammals in different regions, the authors said. However, investigating what extreme obstacles such as large wildfires mean for animals is an interesting case study. Meanwhile, co-author Kendal Calhorn, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, continues to investigate the long-term effects of fire on the health and fertility of this deer population.

Reference: “Site fidelity and behavioral plasticity regulate ungulate response to extreme disorders” October 28, 2021 Ecology and evolution..
DOI: 10.1002 / ece3.8221

Other co-authors are Alex McInturff and Justin Brashares at the University of California, Berkeley. This study was funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.



What happens to wildlife when a large wildfire cuts through the landscape?

https://scitechdaily.com/when-a-massive-wildfire-tears-through-a-landscape-what-happens-to-the-wildlife/ What happens to wildlife when a large wildfire cuts through the landscape?

Back to top button