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WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spermophilus townsendii | Townsend's Ground Squirrel
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Wildfire normally occurs in summer or fall in Townsend's ground squirrel habitats, after grasses have cured. Since Townsend's ground squirrels are aestivating in their burrows at that time, wildfire probably has no direct effect on them [11,28]. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Due to the arid climate, postfire recovery of vegetation in Townsend's ground squirrel habitats is slow. In the short term, fire usually reduces abundance of Townsend's ground squirrels because less forage is available on burned sites, and because predation increases with reduced escape cover [8]. Studies on the long-term effects of fire on Townsend's ground squirrels have only been conducted in communities invaded by exotic annuals. In these communities, frequent fire has harmed the Townsend's ground squirrel. Occasional fire in other Townsend's ground squirrel habitats probably benefits the species in the long term by reducing shrub density and providing a nutrient pulse to grasses and other Townsend's ground squirrel forage. Examples: A year following a July 1985 wildfire on the SRBPSA, more than twice as many active Townsend's ground squirrel holes were found on unburned control plots than on burned, partially burned, and burned-rehabilitated plots. Burned-rehabilited plots had been drill-seeded to crested wheatgrass, yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), and fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens) the fall and spring after fire. In the first postfire summer, the burned, paritally burned, and burned-rehabilited sites were dominated by cheatgrass, whereas the unburned control sites were dominated by fourwing saltbush. Cheatgrass cover was 26 percent on burned, 9 percent on partially burned, 14 percent on burned-rehabilitaed, and 5 percent on control sites. Winterfat, an important food source for Townsend's ground squirrels on the SRBPSA, had 7 percent cover on control sites, less than 1 percent cover on burned sites, and was absent on partially burned and burned-rehabiliated sites. Bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) and Sandberg bluegrass, which, along with winterfat, presumably comprised the bulk of the Townsend's ground squirrel diet prior to cheatgrass invasion, were present only on partially burned and control sites. At postfire year 1, numbers of active Townsend's ground squirrel burrows were [8]: B P R C --------------------------------------------------------- burrows 9 19 7 29 --------------------------------------------------------- B=burned P=partially burned R=burned-rehabilitated C=control Groves and Steenhof [8] speculated that Townsend's ground squirrel numbers may have been reduced in the cheatgrass-dominated areas by impeded movement through the thick stands of cheatgrass, which affected breeding and population size, increased predation due to loss of shrub cover, and changed available food resources. Fire in wet years: Townsend's ground squirrel populations may show a short-term increase when fire is followed by above-average precipitation. Townsend's gound squirrel numbers increased after fire in a big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass (Psuedoroegneria spicata) community in southeastern Washington. A wildfire occured in August 1973, when Townsend's ground squirrels were belowground and dormant, burning 10,000 acres (4,000 ha). Townsend's ground squirrels had been trapped prior to the fire, from March to May of 1973, for census. They were trapped on the same site from March to May of 1974. Precipitation from October to May was 4.8 inches (120 mm) in 1973 and 13.2 inches (330 mm) in 1974. Townsend's ground squirrel numbers were [11]: Prefire Postfire ------- -------- Mar Apr May Mar Apr May ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Townsend's ground squirrels 13 20 18 10 33 28 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Where fires are frequent in Townsend's ground squirrel habitats, the species may decline. As fire frequency has increased in shrub steppe of the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau, shrubs have been lost and cheatgrass and other annuals have become dominant. With short fire return intervals, annuals are able invade large blocks of land. The effects on Townsend's ground squirrel will probably be increased vulnerability to predation and to annual climatic fluctuations, with attendant unpredictability of forage [21]. With fewer bunchgrasses and forbs, exotic annual communities have lower plant species diversity and thus less nutritional variety for Townsend's ground squirrels. Although Townsend's ground squirrel numbers will increase during years when exotic annual production is high, unreliable production will probably result in high-amplitude population fluctuations of Townsend's ground squirrels [28]. FIRE USE : NO-ENTRY REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY

Related categories for Wildlife Species: Spermophilus townsendii | Townsend's Ground Squirrel

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Information Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Fire Effects Information System

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