Aridity influences the recovery of vegetation and shrubland birds after wildfire

Wildfires play a determining role in the composition and structure of many plant and animal communities. On the other hand, climate change is considered to be a major driver of current and future fire regime changes. Despite increases in drought in many areas of the world, the effects of aridity on post-fire colonization by animals have been rarely addressed. This study aims to analyse how a regional aridity gradient affects post-fire recovery of vegetation, bird species richness and the numbers of four early to middle-successional warbler species associated with the shrub cover. The database contains bird relative abundance and environmental variables from 3072 censuses in 695 transects located in 70 recently burnt areas (1 to 11 years after wildfire) in Catalonia (Spain), which were sampled between 2006 and 2013. Generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) showed that plant cover was affected by time since fire, aridity and forest management. However, only the highest vegetation height layer (>100 cm) recovered slower in arid areas after fire. Time since fire positively influenced bird species richness and the relative abundance of the four focal species. The post-fire recovery of Melodious (Hippolais polyglotta) and Subalpine warblers (Sylvia cantillans) was hampered by aridity. Although this was not demonstrated for Dartford (S. undata) and Sardinian warblers (S. melanocephala), their occurrence was low in the driest areas during the first three years after fire. Overall, this study suggests that future increases in aridity can affect plant regeneration after fire and slow down the recovery of animal populations that depend on understorey and shrublands. Given the recently highlighted increases in aridity and fire frequency in Mediterranean-climate regions, improved knowledge on how aridity affects ecological succession is especially necessary ​
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