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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Spotted owls benefit from forest fire mosaic

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Posted: 31 May 2017 05:44 AM PDT  full ScienceDaily article here

Fire is a crucial part of the forest ecosystem on which threatened spotted owls rely, but climate change and decades of fire suppression are changing the dynamics of these forests. A new study examines California spotted owl habitat use and shows that while owls  avoid the badly burned areas left behind by massive stand-replacing fires, they benefit from habitat that includes a mosaic of burned patches of different sizes and degrees of severity.

…”Maintaining a complex mosaic of forest patches with smaller patches of high severity fire can help sustain California Spotted Owls in the greater landscape,” says Eyes. “What’s unique about our study is that we investigated fires that burned within the natural range of variation, so it paints a picture of how owls used a burned landscape before the onset of today’s large stand-replacing fires.” Despite the owls’ preference for edges, there may be a threshold over which edges have a negative effect on habitat quality, and more research is needed to find the right balance between beneficial edge habitat and potentially harmful habitat fragmentation.

Stephanie A. Eyes, Susan L. RobertsMatthew D. JohnsonCalifornia Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) habitat use patterns in a burned landscape. The Condor: Ornithological Applications, May 2017 DOI: 10.1650/CONDOR-16-184.1

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