Ithaca, NY--Mountain Quail are an under-studied but recreationally-valued management indicator species in California's Sierra Nevada. They are notoriously difficult to study due to their penchant for impenetrable, dense, shrubby habitats, high elevations, and steep slopes. In this study, researchers used 1,636 autonomous recording units across about 22,000 square kilometers to conduct the first ever systematic and comprehensive study of Mountain Quail habitat associations and fire ecology in the Sierra Nevada.
Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the University of Minnesota, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Montana conducted this research.
The scientists found that Mountain Quail were more common than previously thought (mean occupancy was about 50% across study sites). They also found positive associations between Mountain Quail occupancy and high severity fire. Mountain Quail were most positively associated with areas that had burned at high severity in the past 6-10 years, but found positive associations ranging between 1 and 35 years after high-severity fire.
Future fire regimes in the Sierra Nevada are expected to include more frequent and larger high-severity fires, which are predicted to negatively impact many iconic Sierra Nevada species. Our results suggest that Mountain Quail may be "winners" in the face of altered fire regimes in the Sierra Nevada. This work is a reminder that there will be both winners and losers as the dynamics of wildfire are altered in the era of climate change.
Brunk, K.M., Gutiérrez, R.J., Peery, M.Z. et al. Quail on fire: changing fire regimes may benefit mountain quail in fire-adapted forests. fire ecol 19, 19 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-023-00180-9
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Quail on fire: changing fire regimes may benefit mountain quail in fire-adapted forests
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