Impacts of prescribed burning of grassland habitat on survival rates of small mammals

UMEB Program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Summer 2004

Summary of Proposed Research

Name: Justin Teisberg
Name of mentors: Dr. Richard E. Warner, Dr. Phil Mankin
Department: Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Mentor’s office number: 217-333-6444
Mentor’s e-mail address:

Title of Project:

Impacts of prescribed burning of grassland habitat on survival rates of small mammals

Goal of Project:
For the duration of a year, I intend to achieve a greater understanding of spatial and temporal fluctuations of small mammal populations in grassland settings with respect to prescribed burning. A rather small amount of attention has been paid to the small mammal constituency of wildlife in prairie restoration projects that implement prescribed burning regimes into management plans. For this reason, research into the survival rates, relative abundances, species richness, species similarity and species diversity of small mammals on prescribed burn tracts will be conducted. The placement of herpetofaunal coverboards randomly in the field will be employed as to assess the numbers and species of a primary small mammal predator, snakes. We believe the effects of prescribed burning will be multitudinous; for example, lessened amount of duff can increase predation by raptors, canids and snakes due to reduced cover. A multitude of sites throughout the East Central Illinois area will be included in the study in an attempt to identify region-wide parallels and patterns in small mammal ecology.

Plan of Research:
Using Sherman traps, I will place two 5x5 grids (25 stations), one in the unburned area and one in the burned area, in the interior of all grassland habitat sites. Two traps will be placed at each trapping site, to eliminate the occurrence of only catching “trap-happy” individuals. Trap sites will be placed at ten meter intervals. The Sherman traps will be set on all sites in the same fashion, to ensure replication. Five “occasions” consisting of four trap nights will be conducted pre-burn and post-burn on both burned and unburned pairs. The unburned plots will act as control plots, while the burned areas will be deemed experimental treatments.

Trapping will be conducted on three different sites in the Champaign-Urbana vacinity. These include the Trelease Prairie tract, the Barnhart Grove Prairie tract, Meadowbrook Park and possibly the Allerton prairie area. More specifically, the southwest (unburned) and southeast (burned) quadrants of the Trelease Prairie, the northern plot (burned) and the southern circle (unburned) at the BGP, and the prairie peninsula (burned) and adjacent plot to the east (unburned) at Meadowbrook Park will be sampled. The sampling will take place in the summer of 2004 and continue into the summer of 2005. Similar trapping schemes during the winter months may also be implemented.

In order to delineate recapture, each individual caught will receive an ear tag labeled with a three digit code (000-999), while a backside hair clip will be taken from animals with unsubstantial ears. Basic information including species, mass, sex, reproductive status, animal number, trap location and significant comments will be recorded. Also we will take samples of ear punches and ectoparasites from every animal and blood samples from every fifth animal for another study concerning zoonotic reservoirs in wildlife populations. After being processed, all trapped individuals will be released. The sampling team will demonstrate extreme care, to ensure that the individual’s future well-being is met. The species expected to be caught include the short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), prairie vole (Microtus ochragaster), deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus).

Mark-recapture data will be analyzed using the MARK program, and the most parsimonious model for assessing small mammal survival rates will be selected. Other findings such as relative abundances, species richness, species similarity, species diversity and impact of predation will be evaluated using appropriate estimators.

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