Testing hypotheses about the role of wildfire in structuring avian communities
By Lesley Bulluck
This week’s featured resource is a module that assesses the role of wildfire in the eastern US and its impact on bird communities using NEON bird survey data from pre- and post- a major wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) in November 2016.
Students build on fundamental concepts of disturbance ecology and its role in structuring wildlife communities. This module specifically assesses the role of wildfire in the eastern US and its impact on bird communities using NEON bird survey data from pre- and post- a major wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) in November 2016. Over two class/lab periods, students learn about natural disturbances in the eastern US and develop hypotheses about the GRSM case study, and then carry out data analysis using NEON data to test their hypotheses. Bird survey data from summer 2016 are used as pre-burn data and bird surveys from summer 2017 and 2018 are used as post-burn data, where some survey plots were affected by the burn and others were not. A Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) design is used to determine whether bird species richness and diversity was affected by the fire. Students are challenged to think about how to ‘wrangle’ data from NEON downloads so that they can be used to calculate diversity indices and test hypotheses about changes in those indices pre- and post-wildfire.
By the end of this module, students should be able to:
Develop hypotheses about the role of natural disturbance (specifically wildfire) on the distribution and abundance of birds in GRSM,
Understand how to use a Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) design to test hypotheses using NEON bird data collected before and after a wildfire,
Wrangle and analyze data in R, and
Hypothesize alternative factors that may influence changes in avian communities following natural disturbance.
This module is designed for upper level biology or environmental science majors. It can be implemented in lab or lecture courses during two 3-hours class periods or spread out across three shorter class periods.
Bulluck, L. (2019). Testing hypotheses about the role of wildfire in structuring avian communities. NEON Faculty Mentoring Network, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/Q4P44F