Prescribed burn creates pulsed effects on a wetland aquatic community
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Fire in uplands and wetlands results in a release of nutrients and increased light in the burned area. However, fire effects on aquatic community dynamics are not well understood. We hypothesized that the addition of light and nutrients resulting from prescribed burns in wetlands increases periphyton biomass and supports increased standing stock of marsh fishes. In the oligotrophic Everglades of Florida, USA, we conducted a 2 × 2 factorial experiment using prescribed burns over standing water (increased nutrients and light), mowing with removal of above-water vegetation (no nutrient increase), and shade houses (no light) to test the prediction that fire effects would lead to more periphyton biomass and greater abundance and size of fish compared to other treatments. We observed increased periphyton percent cover and biomass per area in response to fire treatments. Fish abundance showed a short-term increase in burned plots. Fish length, mass, and condition factor did not respond consistently to treatments, though some species responded to specific treatments. Wildfires in dry marshes that may combust organic soils and vegetation may impact wetlands more than prescribed burns in flooded marshes. Our study suggests that wetland fires can affect aquatic animal and plant community structure, at least for short periods post-fire.
KeywordsFire Wetlands Fish length Everglades Prescribed burn Pulsed effects
Funding for this project was provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers through grants W912HZ-12-2-0010 and W912HZ-10-2-0013 to PCF. LSV was supported in part under National Science Foundation IGERT Grant 0504422 and the US Army Corps of Engineers grants to PCF. JCT was supported by the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under National Science Foundation Grants DBI-0620409 and DEB-1237517 during this study. We thank the following people for help in the field, statistical guidance, and edits: B. Burtner, B. Faustini, J. Fidorra, T. Glover, M. Johnston, W. Loftus, E. Posthumus, M. Schlothan, J.C. Simon, G. Smith, C. Stiegler, and A. Williams. We thank M. Ward and M. Juntunen with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for cooperation during burns and providing extensive burn information.
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