Fire suppression in southern Appalachian pine–oak forests during the past century dramatically altered the bird community. Fire return intervals decreased, resulting in local extirpation or population declines of many bird species adapted to post-fire plant communities. Within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, declines have been strongest for birds inhabiting xeric pine–oak forests that depend on frequent fire. The buildup of fuels after decades of fire suppression led to changes in the 1996 Great Smoky Mountains Fire Management Plan. Although fire return intervals remain well below historic levels, management changes have helped increase the amount of fire within the park over the past 20 years, providing an opportunity to study patterns of fire severity, time since burn, and bird occurrence. We combined avian point counts in burned and unburned areas with remote sensing indices of fire severity to infer temporal changes in bird occurrence for up to 28 years following fire. Using hierarchical linear models that account for the possibility of a species presence at a site when no individuals are detected, we developed occurrence models for 24 species: 13 occurred more frequently in burned areas, 2 occurred less frequently, and 9 showed no significant difference between burned and unburned areas. Within burned areas, the top models for each species included fire severity, time since burn, or both, suggesting that fire influenced patterns of species occurrence for all 24 species. Our findings suggest that no single fire management strategy will suit all species. To capture peak occupancy for the entire bird community within xeric pine–oak forests, at least 3 fire regimes may be necessary; one applying frequent low severity fire, another using infrequent low severity fire, and a third using infrequently applied high severity fire.
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Vol. 118 • No. 1