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Prescribed fire and other fuel-reduction treatments alter ground spider assemblages in a Southern Appalachian hardwood forest


Joshua W. Campbell
Steven M. Grodsky
Marc A. Milne
Patrick Vigueira
Cynthia C. Vigueira
Emily Stern
Cathryn H. Greenberg



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Southern Research Station


Forest Ecology and Management


Prescribed burns and understory thinnings are forest management practices aimed at reducing fuel loads to
lessen wildfire threat in the Southern Appalachians, USA. Spiders play a critical role in forest ecosystems by
controlling insect populations and providing an important food source for vertebrates. We used pitfall and
colored pan traps to investigate how abundance, species richness, and diversity of spiders differed among three
fuel reduction treatments administered repeatedly over a 15-year period and untreated controls. Additionally, we
examined how spiders responded to one round (before and after) of fuel reduction treatments. We established
treatments within the 15-year period as follows: mechanical understory removal (twice; M), prescribed burning
(four times; B), mechanical understory removal followed one year later by high-severity prescribed burns and
three subsequent burns (MB), and untreated controls (C). Our study period (2014–2016) occurred after multiple
prescribed burns and two rounds of mechanical understory removal had occurred. Salticidae and Lycosidae were
the two most commonly collected spider families in Southern Appalachian hardwood forests. Generally, we
found increased spider abundances within all fuel-reduction treatments compared to controls. Individual spider
families and species showed variable responses to treatments, but abundance of several spider families was
greater in one or more fuel-reduction treatments than in controls. Additionally, abundance of several spider
families and hunting/web building guilds (webs built for hunting purposes or defense) exhibited yearly differences
to the last round of fuel-reduction treatments. Overall, our results suggest that changes in the overstory and
understory of a forest are important drivers of regional spider abundance and assemblages, and forest management
practices that modify forest structure can dramatically alter spider abundance and richness, usually in a
positive manner.


Campbell, Joshua W.; Grodsky, Steven M.; Milne, Marc A.; Vigueira, Patrick; Vigueira, Cynthia C.; Stern, Emily; Greenberg, Cathryn H. 2022. Prescribed fire and other fuel-reduction treatments alter ground spider assemblages in a Southern Appalachian hardwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management. 510(1–3): 120127-.


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