Effects of Thinning and Herbicide Application on Vertebrate Communities in Longleaf Pine Plantations

Currently, nearly 98% of the land area once dominated by longleaf pine ecosystems has been converted to other uses. The U.S. Forest Service is replanting logged areas with longleaf pine at the Savannah River Site, New Ellenton, South Carolina, in an effort to restore these ecosystems. To ascertain the effects of various silvicultural management techniques on the vertebrate communities, we surveyed small mammal, herpetofaunal, and avian communities in six 10- to 13-year-old longleaf pine plantations subjected to various thinning and herbicide regimes. Areas within each plantation were randomly assigned one of four treatments: thinning, herbicide spraying, thinning and herbicide, and an untreated control. For all vertebrate groups, abundance and species diversity tended to be less in the controls than treated areas. Birds and small mammals were most abundant and diverse in thinned treatments versus spray only and control. Herpetofauna capture rates were low and, thus, we were unable to detect treatment-related differences. Silvicultural treatments that reduce hardwood stem density and pine basal area can enhance habitat conditions for numerous vertebrate species.

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