Journal Article

After the burn: factors affecting land snail survival in post-prescribed-burn woodlands

Eric J. Ray and Elizabeth A. Bergey

in Journal of Molluscan Studies

Volume 81, issue 1, pages 44-50
Published in print February 2015 | ISSN: 0260-1230
Published online July 2014 | e-ISSN: 1464-3766 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/mollus/eyu051
After the burn: factors affecting land snail survival in post-prescribed-burn woodlands

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  • Aquatic Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences

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Prescribed burning is commonly used for vegetation management. Whereas effects on vegetation are apparent, effects of these burns on ground-dwelling invertebrates are not. Land snails are especially susceptible to burns. Snail loss occurs directly from burns, but may also occur post-burn because of altered habitat conditions, although post-burn loss has not previously been tested. We used a field experiment to investigate snail survival and factors affecting survival in post-burn habitats. We exposed snails (Discidae: Anguispira alternata) to combinations of intact leaf litter, wood shelters, burned leaf litter, charred wood and ash added to leaf litter, to simulate a variety of post-burn conditions. Half of the replicates were watered every 3 d, which allowed detection of desiccation effects in comparison to ambient water conditions. The on-going drought resulted in high snail mortality. Watering increased survival and, as a consequence, growth. Snail mortality was higher in habitats with burned leaves and/or wood than in unburned habitats. Higher temperatures and rapid initial mortality in burned habitats, and increased survival with watering, indicated that the major cause of post-fire mortality was desiccation, rather than starvation. Contrary to expectations, snails in burned-leaf habitats grew more than snails in unburned habitats, and this greater growth was associated with higher soil pH. Snails surviving fires in burned woodland areas likely have high post-burn mortality. Our experiment highlights the negative impacts of burned woodland habitats on some nontarget organisms and indicates that prescribed burns should be avoided during exceptionally dry conditions.

Journal Article.  5270 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Aquatic Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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