Although disturbance processes play important roles in maintaining habitat heterogeneity, the potential effects of such processes on rare or endangered species is virtually unknown and difficult to test. We use an unplanned fire, which burned half of a long-term study plot, as a natural experiment to test the effects of fire on the federally endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park. By implementing a before-after-control-impact study design we determine the mechanistic link between fire and demography of this endangered sparrow. Our results show that while the sparrow tolerates fire, neither sparrow density nor nesting success are enhanced by fire, which runs contrary to the current paradigm in which sparrows are expected to benefit and therefore require fire for persistence. Our results caution against the assumption that occupancy of disturbance-prone habitat automatically suggests dependence on disturbance. Land managers must prevent large and frequent fires from burning occupied sparrow habitat to best manage for the species. Moreover, it is imperative that more studies focus on the effects of disturbance processes on rare and endangered species in order to prevent further loss of biodiversity.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Cape Sable seaside sparrow