Comparison of Herpetofaunal Communities in Areas Disturbed by Oak Regeneration Silvicultural Treatments

by

Chad S. Sundol, Amy L. Raybuck, Cathryn H. Greenberg, Christopher E. Moorman, Janis K. Bush, Gordon Warburton, Dean M. Simon, Tara L. Keyser

Graduate student (CSS), University of Texas at San Antonio Environmental Science Academic Program, One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, TX 78249; Gulf Restoration Specialist (ALR), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Douglas Building, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 7A5, Tallahassee, Florida 32399; Research Ecologist (CHG), USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Bent Creek Experimental Forest, 1577 Brevard Rd., Asheville NC 28806; Professor (CEM), North Carolina State University, Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Program, Box 7646, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA 27695-7646; Professor and Director, Environmental Science Academic Programs (JKB), One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, TX 78249; Mountain Ecoregion Supervisor (GW), North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 783 Deepwoods Dr., Marion, North Carolina, USA 28752; Wildlife Forester (DMS), North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 8676 Will Hudson Road, Lawndale, North Carolina, USA 28090; Research Forester (TLK), USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Bent Creek Experimental Forest, 1577 Brevard Rd., Asheville NC 28806. CSS is corresponding author; to contact call (210)363-6570 or email chad.sundol@gmail.com

Abstract – Reptiles and amphibians are important components of biological diversity, and serve as a prey base for other wildlife species of upland hardwood forests, but could be affected by silvicultural practices that alter forest floor microclimate or microhabitat. We evaluated the response of herpetofauna to three silvicultural methods proposed to promote oak regeneration on productive sites in the southern Appalachians, as part of a long-term study of ecosystem response to regeneration treatments for upland hardwoods (the Regional Oak Study). We measured habitat variables and trapped reptiles and amphibians using drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps during May-August 2008 (pre-treatment) and 2009-2015 (except 2012) (post-treatment). Treatments were assigned to replicated (n=5 per treatment; later reduced to n=4) 5-ha units in a completely randomized design: (1) oak shelterwood (OSW; herbicide applied to midstory, late summer 2008); (2) shelterwood-burn (SWB; harvested winter 2009 - spring 2010; 2 units burned 2015); (3) repeated prescribed fire (B; 2009-2010; 2014-2015) and; (4) control (C; no treatment). Relative abundance of total amphibians was temporarily lower in SWB than B and OSW (but not C), and reptile abundance was greater in SWB than B after harvests. Transient or unclear differences among most treatments was likely because changes to many microhabitat conditions were short-term. Recovery of leaf litter cover and shade in treatments was rapid as trees and shrubs resprouted and dropped leaves each fall.