Action

Use prescribed burning in combination with vegetation cutting

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

Study locations

Key messages

  • Ten studies evaluated the effects of using prescribed burning in combination with vegetation cutting on reptile populations. Eight studies were in the USA and two were in Australia.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE (5 STUDIES)

  • Community composition (1 study): One replicated, randomized, controlled, before-and-after study in the USA found that cutting vegetation prior to burning resulted in reptile assemblages becoming similar to areas with more pristine habitat and a history of frequent fires.
  • Richness/diversity (5 studies): Four of five replicated studies (including three randomized, controlled studies) in Australia and the USA found that areas managed by burning in combination with vegetation cutting had similar reptile species richness compared to either burning only, cutting only or areas that were unmanaged. The other study found that areas of woodland managed by burning and vegetation thinning had higher reptile species richness than unmanaged areas.

POPULATION RESPONSE (9 STUDIES)

  • Abundance (9 studies): Four of nine replicated studies (including five randomized, controlled studies) in the USA and Australia found that areas that were managed by burning in combination with vegetation cutting had a higher abundance of overall reptiles, lizards, eastern fence lizards and five-lined skinks compared to areas that were either only burned or unmanaged. Three studies found a similar abundance of overall reptiles, snakes and turtles compared to either burning only, cutting only or unmanaged. Four studies found mixed effects of burning in combination with vegetation cutting on the abundance of reptiles and six-lined racerunners.

BEHAVIOUR (0 STUDIES)

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 replicated, randomized, controlled study in 1997–1998 of pine sandhills in Florida, USA (Litt et al. 2001) found that using prescribed burning in combination with tree felling/girdling 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 lower in plots with burning and tree felling (racerunners: 0.031 captures/trap days; fence lizards: 0.003) than in burn-only plots (racerunners: 0.037; fence lizards: 0.007), but were higher than in plots with no cutting or burning (racerunners: 0.015; fence lizards: 0.002). Southeastern crowned snake Tantilla coronata capture rates were similar in felling and burning plots compared to burn only plots in both years (0.004–0.007 and 0.011–0.024), but lower than plots with no burning or felling in one year (felling and burning: 0.007; no felling or burning: 0.014) but not the other (felling and burning: 0.024; no felling or burning: 0.019). Green anoles Anolis carolinensis were not caught in burning and felling plots and were caught a similar amount in burn only and no burning or felling plots (0.003). Little brown skink Scincella lateralis captures were similar across all treatments (0.002–0.005). Treatments (burning with tree felling/girdling or burn only) were randomly assigned to 81 ha plots within four replicate blocks. Burn-only and felling/girdling treatments were carried out in spring 1995. Felling/girdling plots were subsequently burned in March–April 1997. Monitoring was undertaken using drift-fencing and pitfall traps in April–August 1997–1998.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. 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 using prescribed burning combined with mechanically removing understory vegetation did not increase reptile species richness, but had mixed effects on reptile abundance depending on the species or species group. In the two years after management was carried out, reptile species richness was similar in plots with burning and mechanical vegetation removal, burning only and plots with no management (1–4 species/plot). Total reptile abundance was higher with burning and mechanical vegetation removal (6.0–8.7 reptiles/100 nights) compared to burning alone (1.4–2.7), but no different from either mechanical vegetation removal only (4.4–4.5) or unmanaged (3.0–3.2). Eastern fence lizards Sceloporus undulatus were also more abundant with burning and mechanical vegetation removal (1.9–2.7 individuals/100 nights) compared to burning alone (0–0.2), but similar to mechanical removal only (0.5–1.4) and no management (0.5–0.8). See original paper for other individual species abundances. Three forest segments were divided into four management zones (14 ha each): prescribed burn with mechanical vegetation removal, prescribed burn only, mechanical vegetation removal only, and no management. Chainsaws were used to remove mid-storey vegetation in winter 2001–2002 and prescribed burns took place in March 2003. Reptiles were surveyed using drift fence arrays with pitfall and funnel traps before any management took place in August–October 2001 and after management in May–September 2002–2004.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, site comparison study in 1999–2001 of pine woodland in western Arkansas, USA (Perry et al. 2009) found that restoring woodland by controlled burning and thinning trees resulted in higher abundance of reptiles compared to unrestored woodland. Overall reptile captures were higher in plots with burning and thinning (78 lizards/plot) than in unmanaged plots (54 lizards/plot); as were overall lizard captures (42 vs 28); whereas no difference was found for snakes (34 vs 25) or three-toed box turtles Terrapene carolina triunguis (1 vs 1; the only turtle species caught). Nine plots (11–42 ha) that had been thinned (1980–1990) and then burned at least three times at 3–5-year intervals were sampled. These were compared to three unmanaged, unburned plots. Controlled burns were in March–April. Three drift-fence arrays with pitfall and box traps were established/plot. Traps were checked weekly in April-September 1999–2001.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, controlled study in 2002–2006 of forest at a site in Western Australia, Australia (Craig et al. 2010) found that burning vegetation and thinning trees, as part of post-mining restoration, increased reptile abundance and species richness. Reptile abundance and richness in thinned and burned plots (abundance: 7–8 individuals/grid, richness: 4 species/grid) was higher than in plots that were not thinned and burned (abundance: 4–5 individuals/grid, richness: 2 species/grid). See paper for details of individual species. In 1984–1992, areas of a former bauxite mine were either planted with non-local tree species or sown with the seed of local tree species. Eight plots were thinned between December 2002 and July 2003 and then burned in November 2003. An additional eight plots were not thinned or burned. Reptiles were monitored for four nights each in October and November–December 2005 and March and May 2006, using pitfall traps with drift fencing and live cage and box traps.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2006–2007 in hardwood forests in North Carolina, USA (Matthews et al. 2010) found overall reptile species richness and capture rates were similar after burning combined with mechanical vegetation cutting or burning or cutting alone, but that lizard capture rates were mostly higher after mechanical-cutting with burning compared to other management options. Overall reptile richness and overall reptile, snake and turtle captures were similar after burning with mechanical-cutting (richness: 5–8 species/100 array nights, overall captures: 12–13 individuals/100 array nights; snakes: 2 individuals/100 array nights; turtles: 0 individuals/100 array nights), twice-burning (4–7, 7–9, 2–7, 0–1), mechanical-cutting only (6–7, 6, 1–2, 0), and no management (6, 7–7, 3–5, 0). Lizard captures were higher after burning with mechanical-cutting (11 individuals/100 array nights) compared to twice-burning (3–5) or no management (4). In the first monitoring year, lizard captures were higher after burning with mechanical-cutting than mechanical-cutting only (4 individuals/100 array nights) but were statistically similar in the second year of monitoring (burning with cutting: 11; cutting only: 5). Three blocks of four sets of 10 ha sites were managed with mechanical-cutting followed by twice-burning, mechanical-cutting (using chainsaws to cut trees and understory, 2001–2002), twice-burning (in March 2003 and February 2006) or no management. Reptiles were surveyed in May – August 2006 and 2007 using drift fences with pitfall traps (‘arrays’, 3/site).

    Study and other actions tested
  6. 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 cutting vegetation prior to burning resulted in reptile assemblages becoming similar to both unburned areas and areas of more pristine habitat. All results reported as statistical model outputs, see original paper for details. Reptile communities in sites treated by cutting vegetation followed by burning were similar to unburned sites and areas of more pristine habitat, but composition was initially different to burn only areas. After a further 10–12 years of all sites receiving regular burning, all reptile communities became similar to areas of pristine habitat. See original paper for details of individual species responses to management. Reptiles were monitored in four sites each (81 ha each) managed by: vegetation cutting (felling and girdling in June–November 1995, 4 sites) with burning (1997), prescribed burning (April–June 1995, 4 sites),  or unmanaged 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.

    Study and other actions tested
  7. 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 where vegetation was cut followed by burning had similar numbers of six-lined racerunners Aspidoscelis sextineatus compared to burn only and pristine habitat areas, whereas unburned areas had fewer than pristine areas. Areas with vegetation cutting followed by burning had similar numbers of six-lined racerunner (adults: 24; juveniles: 5) as burn only areas (23, 10) and areas of more pristine habitat (38, 10), whereas unburned areas had fewer than pristine areas (13, 2). After a further 10–12 years of prescribed burns on all sites, six-lined racerunner abundances were similar in sites managed initially by vegetation cutting and burning (adults: 28 individuals/site; juveniles: 10), burning (40. 7), unburned sites (30, 6) and areas of pristine habitat (37, 10). Reptiles were monitored in six sites each (81 ha each) managed by: vegetation cutting (felling and girdling in June–November 1995, 6 sites) with burning (1997), prescribed burning (April–June 1995, 6 sites) or unmanaged until after 1999 when all sites were burned at 2–3-year intervals. Reptiles were also monitored at a further six 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.

    Study and other actions tested
  8. A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 2005–2008 in mixed forest in Alabama, USA (Sutton et al. 2013) found that the effect of prescribed burning with thinning trees or burning alone was mixed depending on reptile species. Eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus captures increased after burning in burn-only stands (pre-burn: 0 individuals/100 trap nights, post-burn 1–4) and were higher in the second year after heavy thinning with burning (13) compared to no management (1). Green anole Anolis carolinensis captures were higher in the first year after thinning with burning (17–18) and thinning (13) compared to burn only (0), but similar to no management (5). Little brown skink Scincella lateralis captures decreased in the first year after all management (2–3 individuals/100 trap nights) compared to pre-management (4–13). Five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus captures were lower in the first year after burning (0) compared to the first year after heavy thinning (7). See paper for details of other species responses. In 2005–2008, the impact of six management options (burn only, light tree thinning, heavy thinning, light thinning with burning, heavy thinning with burning and no management) on reptiles were tested in three blocks of six 9 ha plots. Reptiles were surveyed for 3–6 months before management began (564 total trap nights in April–August) and in the two years after management (3,132 total trap nights in March–September) using drift fences with pitfall traps.

    Study and other actions tested
  9. A replicated, site comparison study in 1990–1992, 2005–2006 and 2010–2011 in eucalypt forest in Western Australia, Australia (Craig et al. 2018) found that burned and thinned restored ex-mining forest had similar species richness and abundance to unmanaged restored ex-mining forest, but restored forest overall had lower species richness compared to unmined forest. Seven years after 20–22-year-old restored mining forest was managed through prescribed burning and tree thinning, reptile species richness was similar between managed-restored forest (5 species/plot) and unmanaged-restored forest (4) but richness in both was lower than in unmined forest (9). Reptile abundance was statistically similar in managed-restored (21 individuals/plot) and unmanaged-restored forest (10) and unmanaged-restored forest had lower abundance than unmined forest (34). See original paper for individual reptile abundances. The area was restored after mining in 1990–1992 by reseeding with local over- and understory species. Reptiles were surveyed in four plots of each of managed-restored, unmanaged-restored, and unmined forest. Managed-restored forest was thinned by felling trees (December 2002–June 2003) and prescribed burning (November 2003, reduced to 600–800 stems/ha) and two plots were re-thinned in January–December 2009 (reduced to 400 stems/ha). Unmined forest was prescribed burned 3–5 years before surveys. Reptiles were monitored using drift fences with funnel and pitfall traps in 2005–2006, 2010, and 2011.

    Study and other actions tested
  10. 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 prescribed burning combined with mechanical understory removal did not increase overall species richness compared to burning alone or no management, but that two lizard species abundances were greater after prescribed burning with mechanical removal compared to no management. Overall reptile species richness was similar between prescribed burning with mechanical removal, prescribed burning only, mechanical removal only, and unmanaged forest (data reported as model outputs). In 2016, five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus and eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus capture rates were greater after burning with mechanical removal, but not burning or mechanical removal alone, than in unmanaged forest (skink - burning with mechanical: 4 skinks/100 array nights, burning only: 2.8, mechanical only: 1.6, no management: 1.6; lizard - burning plus mechanical: 5.3 lizards/100 array nights, burning only: 3.6, mechanical only: 2.4, no management: 0.5). Three study sites were selected within a 5,841 ha mixed oak-hickory forest. Within each site, experimental plots (10 ha core areas with 20 m wide buffers) were managed as follows: prescribed burning only (2003, 2006, 2012, 2015); mechanical understory removal (in winters 2001–2002 and 2011–2012); mechanical understory removal (winter 2001–2002) followed by prescribed burning (2003, 2006, 2012, 2015) and unmanaged. Reptiles were surveyed after management using drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps (‘arrays’) in May – August of 2003–2004, 2006–2007, 2014 and 2015–2016 (158–341 array nights/plot/year).

    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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