Effects of forest wildfire on inner-Alpine bird community dynamics

Rey, Livio; Kéry, Marc; Sierro, Antoine; Posse, Bertrand; Arlettaz, Raphaël; Jacot, Alain (2019). Effects of forest wildfire on inner-Alpine bird community dynamics. PLoS ONE, 14(4), e0214644. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pone.0214644

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As major disturbance agents, natural catastrophes impact habitats, thereby maintaining the dynamics of ecological communities. Such discrete events are expected to positively affect biodiversity because they generate high habitat heterogeneity and thus numerous ecological niche opportunities. Species typical of open and semi-open habitats, which are often of high conservation concern in modern anthropized landscapes, may benefit most from recurrent natural catastrophes that regularly reset ecosystems. We investigated bird community changes and species-specific responses to wildfire at two recently burnt temperate, montane-subalpine forest stands in an inner-Alpine Swiss valley, with a special focus on red-listed and conservation priority species. We compared bird community changes in burnt forests (spanning 13 years) with bird assemblages occurring in adjacent non-burned forest stands that served as quasi-experimental controls. Strong species-specific responses to wildfire were evidenced, resulting in a dramatic post-fire decrease in overall bird abundance and species richness. Yet, red-listed bird species and conservation priority species in Switzerland were substantially more common in burnt than in control forest stands. Many red-listed species showed a bell-shaped numeric response to wildfire over time, suggesting low habitat suitability just after fire, high habitat suitability at pioneer and early stages of vegetation succession, followed by a long-term decrease in suitability while vegetation becomes denser, especially at ground level. As established for Mediterranean regions where wildfires are especially frequent, this study shows that forest fires can also boost the populations of red-listed and priority bird species typical of open and semi-open habitats in temperate biomes. Prescribed forest fire might represent a management option for preserving threatened elements of biodiversity despite the intense public debate it will trigger.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Conservation Biology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)

UniBE Contributor:

Rey, Livio Sergio; Arlettaz, Raphaël and Jacot, Alain


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




Public Library of Science




Olivier Roth

Date Deposited:

27 Mar 2020 11:27

Last Modified:

29 Mar 2020 03:43

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:






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