Fire ecology and bird populations in eastern deciduous forests

Vanessa L. Artman, Todd F. Hutchinson, Jeffrey D Brawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eastern deciduous forests are located across the central portion of eastern North America and provide habitat for a wide diversity of bird species. The occurrence of fire in the region has been associated with the presence of humans for over 10,000 yr. While pre-European fire regimes are poorly understood, fire is widely thought to have promoted and maintained large expanses of oak forest, woodland, and savanna documented in original land surveys. Forest composition is gradually shifting from fire-tolerant oaks (Quercus spp.) to other species (e.g., maples [Acer spp.]) and suppression of fire has been implicated as a primary cause. Prescribed fire has been used successfully to restore and maintain oak savannas and has been advocated to improve the sustainability of oak forests. Fire ecology research has addressed short-term effects of prescribed fire on habitat structure, breeding bird populations, and nesting productivity. In the short term, prescribed fire reduces habitat suitability for forest-interior birds that nest on the ground and in low shrubs but provides more favorable conditions for disturbance-dependent birds associated with savannas, woodlands, and early-successional forest. The use of prescribed burning requires tradeoffs in terms of management and conservation because some bird species benefit while others are negatively affected, depending on the degree to which fire changes habitat features. There is a critical need for long-term studies to better understand the effects of different fire regimes on bird populations in the eastern deciduous forest region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalStudies in Avian Biology
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 27 2005


  • Eastern deciduous forest
  • Fire history
  • Fire suppression
  • Forest-interior birds
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Prescribed fire
  • Savanna

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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