Exploring Large Downed Wood as Post-Fire Refugia for Terrestrial Salamanders in Pacific Northwest Forests

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Weyerhaeuser
  • Oregon Department of Forestry
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Northwest CASC
In Progress

Downed wood on the forest floor does more than provide habitat for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. These decomposing habitat structures modify the temperature and moisture conditions in the forest itself. Inside and around downed wood, local climate conditions, or microclimates, provide wildlife with stable habitats that allow for persistence during and after wildfires. Cooler, wetter microclimates buffer the effects of wildfire in Oregon’s forests, making microclimate an important component of forest management. Despite the significance of downed wood to forest ecosystem function, forest management practices require only two downed logs to be retained for every acre harvested. To better inform forest management and species conservation efforts, it is vital that researchers and managers better understand the role of downed wood in post-fire recovery of forest-dependent species, such as salamanders that play a critical role in forest food webs and are excellent indicators of ecosystem health and integrity.

Researchers will explore the relationship between downed wood, microclimate, and wildfire on terrestrial salamander diversity. Terrestrial salamanders are sensitive to environmental change, dependent on moist habitats, and are strongly associated with downed wood. The research team will quantify how the time since a wildfire can dictate the size, amount, and quality of downed wood in western, mixed-conifer forests. Additionally, the research team will determine the quality of post-fire refugia for terrestrial salamanders by quantifying relationships between downed wood, microclimate, time since a wildfire, and salamander occupancy and abundance. This research will provide managers with important information on the quantity and quality of downed wood needed to maintain microclimate conditions that can protect and buffer forests from the ever-increasing threat of climate-driven wildfires.