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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2010, Article ID 189271, 9 pages
Research Article

Short-Term Fire Effects on Small Mammal Populations and Vegetation of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert

1Department of Natural Resources, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409, USA
2Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS 39762, USA

Received 6 January 2010; Revised 26 June 2010; Accepted 14 September 2010

Academic Editor: Jean Clobert

Copyright © 2010 Tony J. Monasmith et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Fire is an important ecological factor in semidesert grass-shrub community dynamics, but there is a lack of designed field experiments documenting effects on vegetation and small mammals. We document effects of June prescribed fire on vegetation and small mammals on 20, 25-ha study areas in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert of Southern New Mexico, USA one month and one year posttreatment. Canopy cover of shrubs and grasses recovered to 68 and 27% of the preburn canopy cover, respectively, after one year. Prescribed burns during June enhanced short-term forb production by reducing competition from grasses and shrubs. Thirty thousand trap-nights yielded 1744 captures of 766 individuals of 15 small mammal species. Burns did not affect small mammal species richness and species diversity. Relative abundance of Merriam's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) was 91% greater on burned sites than on control sites one year postburn. Silky pocket mouse (Perognathus flavus) relative abundance was 221% greater on burned sites one year postburn. Chihuahuan Desert pocket mice (Chaetodipus eremicus) responded negatively to the fire, with relative abundance 170% greater on control sites ( 𝑃 = . 0 8 0 ). Burning produced short-term benefits for two heteromyids, Merriam's kangaroo rats and silky pocket mice.