Forest and Spotted Owl management documents often state that severe wildfire is a cause of recent declines in populations of Spotted Owls and that mixed-severity fires (5–70% of burned area in high-severity patches with >75% mortality of dominant vegetation) pose a primary threat to Spotted Owl population viability. This systematic review and meta-analysis summarize all available scientific literature on the effects of wildfire on Spotted Owl demography and ecology from studies using empirical data to answer the question: How does fire, especially recent mixed-severity fires with representative patches of high-severity burn within their home ranges, affect Spotted Owl foraging habitat selection, demography, and site occupancy parameters? Fifteen papers reported 50 effects from fire that could be differentiated from post-fire logging. Meta-analysis of mean standardized effects (Hedge's d) found only one parameter was significantly different from zero, a significant positive foraging habitat selection for low-severity burned forest. Multi-level mixed-effects meta-regressions (hierarchical models) of Hedge's d against percent of study area burned at high severity and time since fire found the following: a negative correlation of occupancy with time since fire; a positive effect on recruitment immediately after the fire, with the effect diminishing with time since fire; reproduction was positively correlated with the percent of high-severity fire in owl territories; and positive selection for foraging in low- and moderate-severity burned forest, with high-severity burned forest used in proportion to its availability, but not avoided. Meta-analysis of variation found significantly greater variation in parameters from burned sites relative to unburned, with specifically higher variation in estimates of occupancy, demography, and survival, and lower variation in estimates of selection probability for foraging habitat in low-severity burned forest. Spotted Owls were usually not significantly affected by mixed-severity fire, as 83% of all studies and 60% of all effects found no significant impact of fire on mean owl parameters. Contrary to current perceptions and recovery efforts for the Spotted Owl, mixed-severity fire does not appear to be a serious threat to owl populations; rather, wildfire has arguably more benefits than costs for Spotted Owls.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics