Action

Use prescribed burning: Forest, open woodland & savanna

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Twenty-eight studies evaluated the effects of using prescribed burning in forest, open woodland and savanna on reptile populations. Twenty-four studies were in the USA, three were in Australia and one was in Brazil.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE (12 STUDIES)

  • Community composition (1 study): One replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in the USA found that in areas with prescribed burning, reptile assemblages became similar to more pristine areas that had historically experienced frequent fires.
  • Richness/diversity (11 studies): Seven studies (including two replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after studies) in the USA and Australia found that burned areas had similar reptile species richness compared to unburned areas. One of the studies also found that burned areas had higher reptile diversity than unburned areas. Two replicated studies (including one randomized, controlled study) in Australia and the USA found that reptile species richness remained similar with time since burning. One of two studies (including one replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study) in the USA found that burned areas had higher combined reptile and amphibian species richness than unburned areas. The other study found that burned areas had similar combined reptile and amphibian species richness and diversity compared to unburned areas.

POPULATION RESPONSE (26 STUDIES)

  • Abundance (23 studies): Nine of 21 studies (including four replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after studies) in the USA and Australia found that burning had mixed effects on the abundance of reptiles, six-lined racerunners and western yellow-bellied racer snakes. Six studies found that burned areas had a higher abundance of reptiles, lizards, black racer snakes and more active gopher tortoise burrows compared to unburned areas. The other six studies found that burned areas had a similar abundance of reptiles, lizards and gopher tortoise burrows compared to unburned areas. One replicated, site comparison study in Australia found that reptile abundance increased with time since burning. One replicated, randomized, controlled study in the USA found that burning in different seasons had mixed effects on the abundance of reptiles.
  • Survival (2 study): One of two studies (one site comparison and one controlled study) in the USA and Brazil found that Texas horned lizard survival was similar in burned and unburned areas. The other study found that burning had mixed effects on survival of an endemic lizard species.
  • Condition (1 study): One site comparison study in the USA found that eastern fence lizards in recently burned areas ran faster than those from areas that were burned less recently or were unburned.

BEHAVIOUR (2 STUDIES)

  • Behaviour change (2 studies): One replicated, controlled, before and-after study in the USA found that burning affected overwintering habitat use by gopher tortoises. One replicated, controlled study in the USA found that in burned areas, black racer snakes had higher surface activity than in unburned areas.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A site comparison study in 1982–1984 of sandhill-scrub habitat in west central Florida, USA (Mushinsky 1985) found that controlled burns resulted in higher species diversity and abundance of combined reptiles and amphibians. Results were not statistically tested. The seven-year burn cycle plot had the greatest number of reptile and amphibian species in both years (7-year cycle: 16–20 species; 2-year: 10–15; 1-year: 14–16; unburned: 10–15). Although burn plots had greater fluctuations in species diversity over the two years than the unburned plot, numbers of captures were higher. Captures tended to be highest in seven- and one-year burn plots (7 years: 115–307 individuals; 2 years: 102–187; 1 year: 126–203; unburned: 71–125). The one-year cycle was most consistent for supporting high numbers of individuals and species. The six-lined race runner Cnemidophorus sexlineatus was the most abundant lizard and densities were greatest on one-year burn cycles (see paper for details). One ha plots were established for one-, two-, and seven-year burn cycles in adjacent strips with burns taking place from 1976. These were compared to a plot unburned for 20 years (last burn in 1965). Burns were in May–June. Five drift-fence arrays with pitfall traps and an artificial cover board were established/plot. Traps were checked 5–6 times/week in April–October 1983–1984.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 1994 of native forest and non-native pine plantations near Brisbane, Australia (Hannah & Smith 1995) found that reptile abundance was higher in burned native forest than unburned forest, but lower in burned plantations than unburned, and that species richness was unaffected. Reptile-only results were not statistically tested. In native forest there were more reptiles captured in five-year burn cycles than unburned sites (5-year cycle: 60, 3-year: 40; unburned: 31). In pine plantations, fewer reptiles were found in burned sites than unburned sites (burned seven years ago: 16, burned two years ago: 5, unburned: 33). Species richness was similar between burned (3–8 species) and unburned plots (6–7 species). Treatments in native forest (1.5 ha; two replicates) were: burned in autumn–winter on a three-year cycle (burned 1991), in winter–spring on a five-year cycle (burned 1993) or unburned (since 1973). In the plantation (25 ha) treatments were: burned two or seven years ago, or unburned. Drift-fencing with pitfall traps and active searching were used for monitoring in January or March 1994 (75–180 trap nights/treatment).

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, site comparison study in 1992–1993 in mixed hardwood and pine coastal forest in Maryland, USA (McLeod & Gates 1998) found that annual prescribed burning did not increase reptile abundance. Following 4–5 years of annual prescribed burning, overall reptile and snake, but not skink or turtle, abundances were reduced in burned pine plots (overall: 96 individuals, snake: 65, skink: 31, turtle: 0) compared to unburned mixed pine-hardwood plots (overall: 130, snake: 91, skink: 36, turtle: 3). See paper for individual species comparisons. The numbers of reptiles captured in burned plots (96 individuals) tended to be lower than in unburned hardwood forest (200 individuals, results were not statistically tested). In March–July 1992–1993, reptiles were monitored in three locations each in four forest stands: prescribed burn pine (4 ha total area), unburned mixed pine-hardwood (5 ha), unburned hardwood (328 ha) and unburned, cut hardwood (130 ha). One third of the burned pine area was burned annually (a different section each year) since 1988. Prior to this it was burned annually in 1981–1984. Surveys were carried out using drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps (‘arrays’, 1992: 366–381 array nights/stand; 1993: 423).

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 1995–1996 in mixed hardwood and pine forest in North Carolina, USA (Ford et al. 1999) found that prescribed burning did not tend to affect the abundance of reptiles (although very few reptiles were captured overall). Prior to burning, no reptiles were captured in the burn sites and one northern ringneck snake Diadophis punctatus was captured in a site that was not to be burned. After burning, one five-lined skink Eumeces fasciatus and one eastern garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis were captured in burned plots in the same year as the burn took place. Monitoring was undertaken for two weeks immediately before an April burn and after the burn in June 1995 and August 1996 at two sites in a 1,820 ha area of national forest. Drift-fencing with pitfalls and snap-traps were installed at three locations in the upper slope, mid-slope and riparian zone at each site. Visual searches were also undertaken. An unburned area at one of the sites was monitored in the same way.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 1997–1998 of pine sandhills in Florida, USA (Litt et al. 2001) found that prescribed burning had mixed effects depending on species and year. In one of two burn years, capture rates of six-lined racerunners Cnemidophorus sexlineatus and eastern fence lizards Sceloporus undulatus were higher in burned compared to fire-suppressed plots (burned: 0.007–0.037 captures/trap days; fire suppressed: 0.002–0.015) and southeastern crowned snake Tantilla coronata capture rates were lower in burned than in fire suppressed plots (burned: 0.004; fire suppressed: 0.014 captures/trap days). Green anole Anolis carolinensis were captured at similar numbers in burned and fire suppressed plots (0.003 captures/trap days in 1998 for both treatments). Plots (81 ha) were randomly selected for burning (4 plots) or continued fire-suppression (4 plots) and burning took place in spring 1995. Monitoring was undertaken using drift-fencing and pitfall traps in April–August 1997–1998.

    Study and other actions tested
  6. A replicated, site comparison study in 2001 in mixed hardwood and pine forest in Georgia, USA (Moseley et al. 2003) found that reptile abundance and diversity, but not species richness, were higher in burned compared to unburned sites. Reptile abundance and diversity but not species richness were greater in burned stands (abundance: 6.7 individuals/stand, diversity: 0.4 Shannon-Wiener Index, richness: 3 species/stand) compared to unburned stands (abundance: 4.3, diversity: 0.2, richness: 2.3). In total, 21 individuals of 8 species (5 lizards, 3 snakes) were captured in burned stands compared to 13 individuals of 4 species (3 lizards, 1 snake) in unburned forest stands. In July–October 2001, reptiles were monitored in three burned (every 2–3 years for 9 years, most recently in January 2001) and three unburned forest stands. Surveys were carried out using drift fences with pitfall traps, coverboards and PVC pipes (348 survey nights/stand). Burns were carried out during winter and did not significantly affect coarse woody debris volumes, but did reduce leaf litter depth. 

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  7. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 1995–1996 in oak forests in Virginia, USA (Keyser et al. 2004) found that more lizards were captured, but there were similar numbers of reptile species in burned compared to unburned sites. One year after burning, lizards were captured more often in burned (2–3 individuals/plot) than unburned forest (1 individuals/plot). One snake was caught each in burned and unburned plots (see original paper for individual species capture rates). Overall reptile richness was 2–4 species in burned and 3 species in unburned plots (results were not statistically tested). Plots in three forest stands (2–5 ha) were burned in February, April or August 1995 in a randomized block design or left unburned. All plots had been subject to shelterwood harvest 3–5 years before burning. Reptiles were monitored using pitfall traps one year after burning for 53 nights during June–October 1996 (12,720 total trap nights).

    Study and other actions tested
  8. A replicated, site comparison study in 2001 in three sites within savanna woodlands in Queensland, Australia (Kutt & Woinarski 2007) found that overall reptile abundance was similar in burned and unburned areas, though the abundance of one species was higher after burning and another species abundance was lower after burning in combination with grazing. Overall reptile abundance was similar in burned (12–20 individuals/plot) and unburned plots (14–19), regardless of grazing practices. Of 18 species recorded, one dragon species abundance was higher in burned than unburned plots regardless of grazing and one ctenotus abundance was lower in burned than unburned plots, particularly when burning was combined with grazing (central netted dragon Ctenophorus nuchalis burned: 0.7–1.0 individuals/plot vs. unburned: 0–0.1; leopard ctenotus Ctenotus pantherinus 0–1 vs. 1–4). In January 2001, reptiles were monitored on three cattle stations (>20,000 ha each) in 29 one-ha plots that were either recently burned (within 2 years) or unburned (last burnt >2 years ago) and either ungrazed (paddocks where cattle were excluded) or grazed (4–8 cattle/ha). Burns were a mixture of prescribed burns and wildfires and all treatments took place over >2,000 ha areas. Reptiles were sampled using cage traps and pitfalls supplemented by day and night log rolling and litter raking.

    Study and other actions tested
  9. A replicated, controlled study in 2003–2004 of pine savanna in Mississippi, USA (Langford et al. 2007) found that after prescribed burning reptile abundances tended to be higher, but species richness was similar compared to unburned sites. Results were not statistically tested. In burned sites, 1.3 individuals/transect and 5.0 species/site were captured, compared to 0.9 individuals/transect and 5.3 species/site in unburned sites. A low intensity burn was undertaken over a large proportion of a National Wildlife Refuge in March 2003. From January to June 2004, reptiles were monitored at three burned and three unburned sites. Visual encounter surveys (200 m transects), minnow traps (six/site) and PVC tubes (five/site) were used.

    Study and other actions tested
  10. A replicated, controlled, before and-after study in 2002–2004 in mixed open shrub and forest habitat in Mississippi, USA (Yager et al. 2007) found that proportions of active gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus burrows tended to be higher in forest areas after burning, and that after burning of both forests and forest clearings, more tortoises overwintered in the clearings compared to when forests and clearings were left unburned. Results were not statistically tested. Two years after prescribed burning began, 33 of 34 (97%) gopher tortoise burrows in burned forest were active, compared to 11 of 16 (69%) active burrows before burning. In unburned sites proportions of active burrows in forests were 82–88% over the same period (2002: 14 of 17 active burrows; 2004: 23 of 26 active burrows). In burned sites, 84% of tortoises overwintered in open shrubland and 16% in forest-interior burrows, compared to 59% overwintering in open shrubland, 27% in forest-interior and 14% in forest-edge burrows in unburned sites. Tortoises spent similar amounts of time in open shrubland versus forest habitat and similar hibernation durations in burned and unburned sites (see original paper for details). Four of eight forest and shrubland sites were burned in January–February 2002 and April 2003. Tortoise burrows were surveyed in April 2002–2004. Tortoises (4–7 individuals/site, 20 in burned sites, 20 in unburned sites) were trapped and monitored using radio-telemetry twice a week in the active seasons and once a week in the dormant seasons (>70 times/year/individual).

    Study and other actions tested
  11. A replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in 2001–2004 in an upland hardwood forest in North Carolina, USA (Greenberg & Waldrop 2008, same experimental set-up as Greenberg et al. 2018) found that burned and unburned areas had similar abundance and species richness of reptiles. Reptile species richness was similar in burned and unburned areas (1–2 species). Total reptile abundance was also similar in burned (1–3 reptiles/100 nights) and unburned (3 reptiles/100 nights). See original paper for other individual species abundances. Three forest segments were divided into different management zones (14 ha each): prescribed burn and unburned. Reptiles were surveyed using drift fence arrays with pitfall and funnel traps before any burning took place in August–October 2001 and after burning in May–September 2002–2004.

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  12. A site comparison study in 1998–2001 in thornscrub in southern Texas, USA (Hellgren et al. 2010) found Texas horned lizard Phrynosoma cornutum survival was similar in prescribed burned and unburned sites. Four-month survival rates of Texas horned lizards were similar between burned and unburned sites that were also subject to livestock grazing (burned: 47%, unburned: 35%). Lizard survival rates were initially higher in the May–June in the second year after burning than in the first year after burning, but overall annual survival rates were similar between the two years (second year after burning: 49%, first year: 32%). Lizard survival was monitored in burned and unburned sites (50–60 ha each) in a wildlife management area (6,500 ha). Lizards were captured by searching roads, chance encounters and drift fences with pitfall traps. Lizards were marked with a PIT tag and toe clips, and fitted with a radio transmitter. Lizards were located at least once every 24 hours for four months from mid-April to mid-August in 1998–2001 (burned sites: 48 lizards, unburned sites: 39 lizards).

    Study and other actions tested
  13. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2006–2007 in hardwood forests in North Carolina, USA (Matthews et al. 2010) found that burned areas had similar overall reptile species richness and capture rates compared to unburned areas. Overall reptile richness and overall reptile, snake and turtle captures were similar in burned areas (richness: 4–7 species/100 array nights, overall captures: 7–9 individuals/100 array nights, snakes: 2–7 individuals/100 array nights, turtle: 0–1 individuals/100 array nights), and unburned areas (6, 7–7, 3–5, 0). Three sites (10 ha) each were managed by twice-burning (in March 2003 and February 2006) or received no management (‘unburned’). Reptiles were surveyed in May – August 2006 and 2007 using drift fences with pitfall traps (‘arrays’, 3/site).

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  14. A replicated, randomized study in 1999–2001 in nine restored pine woodlands in western Arkansas, USA (Perry et al. 2012) found that overall reptile captures did not change during a three-year burning cycle, but some individual species capture rates varied with time after burning. Captures were similar in all years of a three-year burn cycle for overall reptiles (year 1: 79 individuals/stand, year 2: 79, year 3: 76) snakes (31, 33, 39), lizards (47, 44, 36) and turtles (0.7, 1.4, 0.9). Southern black racer snake Coluber constrictor priapus captures were lowest in the burn year (3 individuals/stand) compared to the two subsequent years (7–9). Ground skink Scincella lateralis captures were highest in the burn year (16 individuals/stand) compared to the two subsequent years (7–9). Southern coal skink Eumeces anthracinus pluvialis captures were highest in the second year after burning (0.7 individuals/stand) compared to the previous two years (0.1–0.1) and fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus captures were higher in the year after burning (19 individuals/stand) compared to the burn year (11) but similar to the second year after burning (13). In 1999–2001, nine stands (11–42 ha) were burned on a three-year cycle, so three were burned each year in March–April. Stands had been thinned at least nine years previously and had undergone 3–7 prescribed burns at 2–5-year intervals. Monitoring was undertaken using three drift-fence arrays/stand (15 m) connected to central funnel traps in April–September in 1999–2001.

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  15. A replicated, site comparison study in 2008–2011 of 74 temperate woodland sites Victoria, Australia (Hu et al. 2013) found that reptile abundance but not species richness increased with time since fire. Reptile abundance was lower in sites that were burned more recently and higher in sites with a longer time since burning (results reported as model outputs, see paper for details). Species richness was similar in recently burned sites compared to long-term unburned sites. A total of 2,691 reptiles of 14 species (10 lizards and 4 snakes) were captured. In summer 2008–2011, reptiles were surveyed in 74 sites ranging recently burned (0 years since fire) to approximately 80 years post-burn. Fire histories included both prescribed burning and wildfires. Surveys were carried out using drift fences with pitfall traps (14,084 total trap nights). Sites were used for a maximum of two seasons.

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  16. A replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in 1995–2010 in fire-suppressed longleaf pine Pinus palustris forest in Florida, USA (Steen, Smith, Conner et al. 2013, same experimental set-up as Steen, Smith, Morris et al. 2013) found that after regular prescribed burning to remove hardwood trees, reptile assemblages became similar to more pristine sites that had historically experienced frequent fires. All results reported as statistical model outputs, see original paper for details. After 10 years of regular prescribed burning to remove invasive hardwood trees, reptile assemblages in prescribed burning sites were similar to sites that had historically experienced frequent fires. See original paper for details of individual species responses to management. Reptiles were monitored in four sites (81 ha) each that were managed by prescribed burning (April–June 1995, four sites) or were unburned until after 1999 when all sites were burned at 2–3-year intervals. Reptiles were also monitored a further four sites in an area without historical fire suppression. Reptiles were surveyed using drift fences with pitfall traps (16 traps/site) in April–August 1997–1998 and May–September 2009–2010.

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  17. A replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in 1995–2010 in fire-suppressed longleaf pine Pinus palustris forests in Florida, USA (Steen, Smith, Morris et al. 2013, same experimental set-up as Steen, Smith, Conner et al. 2013) found that areas with prescribed burning had similar six-lined racerunner Aspidoscelis sextineatus abundance compared to pristine areas, whereas unburned areas had fewer. In the first two years, six-lined racerunner abundances were similar in burned areas (adults: 23 individuals/site; juveniles: 10) and more pristine areas with a history of frequent fires (adults: 38, juveniles: 10), and higher than in unburned areas (adults: 13, juveniles: 2). After 15 years, when all sites were regularly burned, six-lined racerunner abundances were similar in sites that had been previously burned (adult: 40 individuals/site; juvenile: 7), unburned (30, 6) or in more pristine areas with a history of frequent fires (37, 10). Reptiles were monitored in six plots (81 ha) each that were burned (April–June 1995, 6 plots) or unburned (6 plots) until after 1999 when all plots were burned at 2–3-year intervals. Reptiles were also monitored in a further six plots in more pristine areas with a history of frequent fires that was considered to be the target condition of restoration efforts. Reptiles were surveyed using drift fences with pitfall traps (16 traps/site) in April–August 1997–1998 and May– September 2009–2010.

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  18. A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 2005–2008 in mixed forest in Alabama, USA (Sutton et al. 2013) found that following burning, the abundance of one reptile species increased and seven remained similar. Eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus captures increased after burning (pre-burn: 0 individuals/100 trap nights, post-burn 1–4). The abundance of seven other species was not affected by burning (see paper for details). In 2005–2008, the impact of burning compared to no management on reptiles was tested (three 9 ha plots/treatment). Reptiles were surveyed for 3–6 months before burning began (April–August) and in the two years after burning (in March–September) using drift fences with pitfall traps.

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  19. A controlled study in 2005–2010 in a mixed coastal wetland, scrub and woodland habitat in California, USA (Thompson et al. 2013) found that four years after prescribed burning, western yellow-bellied racer snake Coluber constrictor mormon abundance was lower in burned than unburned sites, but that abundance was similar in burned and unburned sites from five years after burning took place. Four years after prescribed burning, western yellow-bellied racer snake abundance was lower (2008: 17 snakes/trap array) compared to unburned sites (49). In the fifth and sixth years after burning, snake abundance was similar in burned and unburned sites (2009 burned: 16 snakes/trap array vs. unburned: 25; 2010 burned: 19 vs. unburned: 30). Prescribed burns were carried out in a 213 ha area in autumn 2005 (64 ha) and 2006 (67 ha). Reptiles were surveyed in burned and adjacent unburned areas using traps, observation and coverboards. Traps were set in March–August 2007–2010 (277–1,140 trap days/year). Caught snakes (692 total individuals) were individually marked using PIT tags. Too few individuals were caught in the 2006 burn site to be included in analysis.

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  20. A replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in 1999–2007 in six pine plantations in Mississippi, USA (Iglay et al. 2014) found that prescribed burning did not increase reptile and amphibian richness, diversity or species abundances, apart from one lizard species in one of seven years. In six of seven years after burning, species richness, diversity measures and species abundances were similar in burned and unburned plots (data reported as model outputs, see paper for details). Eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus abundance was higher in burned plots (0.02 lizards/plot) in the first year after management compared to unburned plots (0.002 lizards/plot). Six plots each (10 ha plots) in six intensively-managed, 18–22-year-old commercial pine stands (59–120 ha) were burned or left unburned. Burning took place in the dormant season (December–February) in 2000, 2003 and 2006. Reptiles were monitored using drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps in May–June 1999–2007 (one year before management and seven years after management began).

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  21. A replicated, site comparison study in 2005–2011 in two sites of beach dunes, dry hammock and freshwater marsh in Florida, USA (Pawelek & Kimball 2014) found that gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus burrow density tended to be similar in areas that were burned or unburned. Results were not statistically tested. Burrow density ranged from 0.6–0.8 burrows/ha in burned areas and 0.6–0.7 burrows/ha in unburned areas. The authors suggest there may have been increases in burrow density from 2005–2011 in areas burned at least once since 2005 (0.2 to 1.2 burrows/ha; 0.3 to 0.5 burrows/ha; 7.5 to 10.3 burrows/ha) and a decrease in an area not burned since 2005 (2.7 to 0.2 burrows/ha). Four areas of the site had a history of prescribed burns dating back to 1988 (160 ha total), whereas other areas had no history of burning (229 ha total). Three of the burned areas were burned at least four times since 1988, and one was burned only once since 2010, and three of four areas were burned at least once during the study period. Burrow surveys were conducted in 2005, 2007 and 2011 by groups of surveyors walking 5–10 m apart during spring and autumn.

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  22. A controlled study in 2005–2013 in neotropical savanna in Brasilia, Brazil (de Sousa et al. 2015) found that regular prescribed burning increased adult and juvenile endemic lizard Micrablepharus atticolus survival in the short term, but that more frequent late-dry season burns were detrimental. All results were reported as statistical model outputs, see original paper for details. In months when prescribed burns took place, lizard survival and recruitment rates increased. Lizard survival rates were lowest in the late-season biennially burned plot, but similar in plots burned in early-dry season, mid-dry season, or not prescribed burned. Juvenile survival was lowest in biennially-burned plots and highest in the unburned plot. In November 2005 to March 2013, five plots (10 ha each) in an ecological reserve were sampled for lizards. Plots were prescribed burned in either: early-dry season (June) biennially, mid-dry season (August) biennially, late-dry season (September) biennially, mid-dry season quadrennially, or not prescribed burned (although burned in an unplanned fire in September 2011). Lizards were sampled daily using a drift fence with pitfall traps in each plot (see original paper for details) for six consecutive days/month. Lizards were individually marked by toe clipping, measured, sexed and released (465 individual lizards were caught during the study).

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  23. A replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in 2008–2014 in an upland mixed oak forest in the Appalachians, USA (Greenberg et al. 2016) found that prescribed burning did not increase the abundance or species richness of total reptiles, snakes or lizards when compared to unburned areas. Total reptile and snake species richness was similar in prescribed burn areas and unburned areas (data presented as statistical model results), as was lizard species richness (burned:0–0.4 species/plot; unburned: 0–0.8 species/plot).  Abundance of total reptiles was similar in prescribed burn areas (0.1–0.3 average captures/100 fence nights) compared to unburned areas (0.2–0.5 average captures/100 fence nights). Prescribed burn plots and unburned plots (five 5 ha plots of each in 2008, 2010–2011 and four plots of each in 2013–2014) were monitored using drift fences, pitfall and funnel traps in May to August one year pre-treatment (2008) and five years post treatment (sampled in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014; see paper for details of trap deployment).

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  24. A replicated, controlled study in 2012 in mature oak-hickory forest in south-western Kentucky, USA (Howey et al. 2016) found that in burned plots, black racer snake Coluber constrictor abundance was higher and snakes increased surface activity compared to unburned plots. Snake abundance was higher in burned plots (39 individuals) compared to unburned plots (21 individuals). Snakes were more active on the surface in burned plots than unburned plots (data presented as statistical model outputs). Males moved more than females in burned plots and less than females in unburned plots although sex ratios and body sizes were similar between burned and unburned plots (see original paper for details). Radio-tracked snake mortality rates were higher in burned areas (5 individuals) than unburned areas (1 individual, no statistical tests were carried out). Data was collected from two treatments: burned (in April 2007 and September 2010) and unburned plots. Snakes were trapped and monitored in eight square 64 ha plots (four burned, four unburned). Plots were > 200 m from the treatment edge and at least 500 m from the nearest plot. Snakes were trapped using drift fences, funnel and pitfall traps during April–August in 2012. Snake movements were monitored using radio transmitters (burned: 11; unburned: 10).

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  25. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2013–2016 in one oak-dominated forest in North Carolina, USA (Greenberg et al. 2018) found that reptile species richness did not change after prescribed burning, but that capture rates were higher and decreased over time after growing-season, but not after dormant-season prescribed burning. Reptile species richness did not change over time following dormant-season or growing-season burns, or in unburned plots (data reported as model results). Reptile capture rates were highest in the year of growing-season burns (8 individuals/100 array nights; 1–3 years later: 3–6 individuals/100 array nights), but did not change after dormant-season burns (1 individuals/100 array nights; 1–2 years later: 1–2 individuals/100 array nights) or in unburned areas (1–2 individuals/100 array nights). There was no difference in overall lizard or overall snake capture rates between burned (growing season and dormant season) and unburned plots over time. See original paper for species-specific capture rates. The authors reported that growing-season burns cleared more canopy cover than dormant-season burns, which may have contributed to elevated reptile captures in growing-season burned plots compared to unburned plots. Nine plots (4–7 ha) in a National Forest were either prescribed burned in the growing season (April 2013), dormant season (March 2014), or not burned (three plots/approach). Reptiles were surveyed using drift fences with pitfall traps ('arrays') May–August 2013–2016 (2–3 arrays/plot, dormant-season burn plots only surveyed in 2014–2016).

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  26. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2001–2016 in upland forest in North Carolina, USA (Greenberg et al. 2018, same experimental set-up as Greenberg & Waldrop 2008) found that burned areas had similar overall species richness and individual species abundance compared to unburned areas. Overall reptile species richness was similar between prescribed burning and unburned forest (data reported as model outputs). In 2016, five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus and eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus capture rates were similar in burned and unburned areas (skink - burning: 2.8 skinks/100 trap group nights; unburned: 1.6; lizard - burning: 3.6; unburned: 0.5). Three study sites were selected within a 5,840 ha mixed oak-hickory forest. Within each site, experimental plots (10 ha core areas with 20 m wide buffers) were burned (2003, 2006, 2012, 2015) or left unburned. Reptiles were surveyed after burns using drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps in May – August of 2003–2004, 2006–2007, 2014 and 2015–2016 (158–341 trap group nights/plot/year).

    Study and other actions tested
  27. A replicated, controlled study in 2007–2016 of an oak/hickory forest in western Kentucky, USA (Hromada et al. 2018) found that overall snakes, two snake species and one lizard species, but not overall lizards were more abundant in prescribed burned areas compared to unburned areas. Abundance of snakes overall was significantly higher in burned than unburned plots, but abundance of lizards overall was not (data reported as model outputs). North American racer snakes Coluber constrictor, ring-necked snakes Diadophis punctatus and eastern fence lizards Scelophorus undulatus were more abundant in burned (racer snakes: 4–13; ring-necked snakes: 4–15; fence lizards: 11–45 individuals/100 fence nights) than unburned plots (racer snakes: 1–9; ring-necked snakes: 1–3; fence lizards: 5–18 individuals/100 fence nights), although the size of the effect varied by year. Abundance of all reptiles and reptile community structures were similar in burned and unburned plots (data reported as model outputs, see original paper for details). Prescribed burns took place in 2007 and 2010. Data were collected in four burned and four unburned 800 x 800 m study areas in spring and summer 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016. Reptiles were surveyed using drift fencing, pit fall and funnel traps. Reptiles captured included five snake and four lizard species.

    Study and other actions tested
  28. A site comparison study in 2014–2015 in mixed oak-hickory forest in Kentucky, USA (Wild & Gienger 2018) found that in prescribed burn forest eastern fence lizards Sceloporus undulatus ran faster than those in forests that had not been exposed to fire for four years or were unburned. Eastern fence lizards from forest burned less than six months previously ran faster (maximum sprint speed: 3.1 m/second; 2 m run speed: 2.2 m/second) than eastern fence lizards from forest burned four years previously (maximum sprint speed: 2.6 m/second; 2 m run speed: 1.7 m/second) or unburned forest (maximum sprint speed: 2.3 m/second; 2 m run speed: 1.6 m/second). In 2014, eighty lizards were captured, measured and speed tested. Similar size and weight lizards were captured from forest that had been prescribe burned less than six months earlier (26 lizards), or four years earlier (26 lizards), or not burned in the previous 60 years (28 lizards). Lizards were placed on a track and encouraged to run at maximum speed. Lizard top sprint speed and running speed over 2 m were measured using video technology (see original paper for details). Fourteen lizards were recaptured and retested in 2015.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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