Grade: 9 | State: Arizona
Grade: 9 | State: Arizona
Statement of the Problem
Wildfires burned more than 1 million acres of Arizona forest and grassland during the summer of 2011. Arizona fires reported to the Southwest Coordination Center on August 31, 2011 destroyed 1,008,753 acres, including the Wallow Fire (538,049 acres), the Horseshoe 2 Fire (222,954 acres), the Complex Fire (68,079 acres), and the Monument Fire (30,526 acres) (Arizona Star, 5 Sept 2011).
The problem of wildfires is not unique to southern Arizona in the summer of 2011. Murray (2011) reported that six states were also ravaged by wildfires. Neighboring New Mexico faced a fire that closed in on the nuclear facility at Los Alamos as 1,098,186 acres burned. Two California blazes forced evacuations and corralled wildlife in the San Bernardino National Forest (Associated Press, 24 Aug 2011). In Texas, more than 3.5 million acres burned as 14 large fires were fought, according to the Texas Forest Service. The National Interagency Fire Center said significant fires were “above normal” through the end of September 2011 in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia. All of these fires are evidence of the need to study the short- and long-term effects of wildfires.
The first major summer wildfire in southern Arizona was in the Tumacacori Mountains on May 30, 2011. On June 7 this fire joined with the Pajarita Fire to the southwest; the two were renamed the Complex Fire. Although great concern was shown for the artist town of Tubac, four miles away, little was said about native wildlife in imminent danger. The Complex Fire was finally contained after destroying 68,078 acres of natural forest.
The Sonoran Desert is rich with animal life, supporting species that are unique to this part of the world (Desert USA 2009), so wildfires are especially concerning. Spanning southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, the Sonoran Desert is home to species that in some cases are only recently documented, such as the ocelot and the jaguar.
Knowledge of the native species of the southwestern United States is vital to its protection and survival (Nature Conservancy 2009). Peterson (2011) reported that following the fires, volunteers worked with Coronado Park rangers to replace agaves, a main source of life for a “keystone species, the lesser long-nose bat.” The Phoenix Zoo gave an endangered species of red squirrels sanctuary in an attempt to keep four of the remaining 214 Mount Graham squirrels known to exist alive (Associated Press, 5 August 2011). Wildlife biologists at the Sky Island Alliance expressed concern for the recently documented ocelots and jaguars in the area of the fires (Lamberton 2011). Beal (19 July 2011) reported on the loss near Ramsey Canyon, stating that ecotourism businesses in the fire-damaged areas had suffered due to the effect on birding. When an area is ravaged by fire and the birds do not reappear, tourists don’t come back either. Protection of a species can also serve as protection for humans.
Both human-caused and naturally caused wildfires are known to have devastating effects. However, little has been published concerning the wildlife species affected as a result of Arizona wildfires in the summer of 2011. Using photos from remote-sensing cameras, this project will determine the longitudinal effects of one of those wildfires on the species that resided in the area.
Hypothesis 1: Species Identified Pre- and Post-Wildfire
There will be no difference in the wildlife species identified in the defined wildfire area when comparing pre-wildfire photos to post-wildfire photos.
Rationale: The rationale behind this hypothesis is to examine whether any species were forcibly displaced after the wildfire, or appeared for the first time in an area where they had not been observed before the fire; and to examine the rate at which each species returns.
Hypothesis 2: A Comparison of Species Sighted Pre- and Post-Wildfire in the Control Area Compared to the Wildfire Area
There will be no difference in the frequency (number of sightings) of each species either before or following a wildfire when comparing the Control location to the Wildfire location.
Rationale: The rationale behind this hypothesis is that by examining the percentage of each species observed before and after the wildfire as compared to a control area, it may be possible to determine whether species left the fire area at a higher rate than the control area, and whether natural migrations or naturally occurring factors could be the cause of the changes in population numbers.
On May 29, 2011, a wildfire ignited in the Coronado National Forest and became known as the Complex Fire. This researcher already had four remote-sensing cameras monitoring species in a nearby mountain range in Cochise County that was unaffected by the fire. This became the Control site. Access was gained to four cameras in an area known as the Ruby site, which was located in the midst of the fire. Two cameras per site were matched and selected for this study based on comparable attributes of elevation, proximity to a water source, distance, etc. Changes in biodiversity were then examined for the 148 days prior to the start of the fire and the 17 days after the fire, and compared to data for the 148 days following the fire, for a total of 313 days in the study. Pre- and post-fire results from the Ruby site were compared to results from the Control location.
Procedure for the Control Site
Procedure for the Experimental Site
The data output was analyzed and the results compared for pre- versus post-wildfire and for Control versus Fire locations. A comparative analysis of the types of species appearing and their numbers was conducted. In order to examine rates of recovery, longitudinal data was examined, in particular for those species that appeared after the fire when they had never been at a site previously, or were there prior to the fire but never returned in the months following. Wide fluctuations or increases were noted. Please see the Data Analysis section.
General location: Tumacacori Highlands and Mountain Range. Cameras at 4,000 ft.The highlands have the Tumacacori Mountains to the north and the Sierra La Esmeralda range south of the U.S.–Mexico border.
Control site: Whetstone Mountain Range.Cameras at 4,200 ft.The Whetstone Mountains are a mountain range in southeastern Arizona. Major ranges in the region are called the Maderan Sky Islands.
Complex Fire: 31.54 latitude, -111.158 longitude. A human-caused wildfire that began five miles east of Arivaca and four miles west of Tubac, AZ, with 68,078 acres burned. On June 7, the Pajarita Fire combined with the Murphy Fire to form the Complex Fire, and continued to burn.
Pre-wildfire: For the purpose of this study, pre-wildfire will be defined as the 148-day period of time in which images were captured, from January to May 30, 2011.
Post-wildfire: For the purpose of this study, post-wildfire will be defined as the 17-day period of time from May 30 to the fire end-date of June 15, 2011.
Corridors: Corridors will be defined as pathways through the area that species tend to travel along for a variety of reasons. Usually a corridor is in a low area between two higher rises. However, a species may choose to travel a corridor that is an “easy” natural path, or to avoid human populations, or to seek available prey in a particular area.
Recovery: For the purpose of this study, recovery is defined as how quickly a species returns to an area over time.
Territory: For the purpose of this research, territory is defined as the ground a species covers and resides in. Species that are territorial tend to travel the same paths and stay in the same locations unless something disrupts them.
Wildlife linkages: For the purpose of this study, linkages are defined synonymously with corridors.
Biodiversity: The biodiversity of an area is defined as all species that inhabit that area–both plants and animals. For the purposes of this research, biodiversity will be measured only by the animal species that reside in the area.
Nocturnal: Animals that generally sleep during the day and travel or move about at night are considered nocturnal.
Sample population: A sample population is defined as the total group of animals that was observed in this study.
Sky islands: Sky islands are defined as islands that arose as geographical formations. Because of their island-like formation, they protect and support certain species particularly well.
Outliers: This is when a data point falls outside all the other data points. It can give a result that just does not fit in with the “usual” findings.
Habitat: Habitat is the total environmental area and surroundings in which a species lives.
Interior: In this study, interior locations are defined as places where a camera is far into an area, away from populated areas and far away from highly used paths and roads.
Camera trapping: Considered the most humane form of trapping by many, camera trapping is defined as taking a photo of something in order to learn about it rather than capturing it. This lessens stress for the animal. For this study, remote-sensing cameras will be the only type of camera trapping included in the operational definition.
Lure: A lure is a substance that is sometimes placed on a camera (usually the scent of a female or the urine of a prey animal) to get the attention of the animal walking by. Most research groups discourage this practice because it disrupts the natural order of things. However, if it was previously applied, the camera may still carry the scent.
Scat: Scat is a species fecal output. Scat helps researchers identify a species and verify the surrounding tracks.
Ground truthing: Ground truthing is defined as finding out if something is true, checking to see whether a statement or fact is accurate or not.
Coordinates: Coordinates in this study are defined as those used by any GPS device that tell a person where they can find something on a map and then help a person to find that same thing in real life. In this study they were used to facilitate locating the remote-sensing cameras.
Transect: A transect is defined as the place where two things cross each other. For example, in this study, when coordinates transected each other, that is where cameras could be located or where tracks could be observed.
Trophic levels: The trophic level of an organism is the position it holds in a food chain, from producer to consumer levels.
Species detection rate: This is defined by every month for every year for every site examined. It is determined by using the formula: 100 times the number of images taken of a species for a month divided by the number of days in the month for which that camera was active.
Naturally occurring differences: There are differences when comparing the Control location to the Wildfire location due to natural variations that existed before the wildfire; these will be controlled for. For example,some species occur only in one area compared to the other due to weather, vegetation altitude, topography and terrain.
Species activity patterns: This is defined as the pattern of appearance for each species during a set time or day throughout the study period.
Species accumulation curve: This is defined in the formula as the number of species over time.
Species richness: This is the number of specified species in a defined area useful for ecological examinations, such as relationships between precipitation, vegetation diversity, time, number of species, altitude, etc.
Wide-ranging species: These are species that can be found in a variety of areas within the Southwest. They are not specific to one location only.
Non-invasive techniques: These allow study of a species without greatly affecting their natural habits.
The analysis of the data included an analysis of the type and frequency of species, an analysis of species accumulation patterns that measure which species are observed in each area, and a comparative overlay of the type and number of wildlife species observed at the Control site versus the Experimental site before and after the fire.
A paired t-test was indicated for this study for examining the significance of the pre- and post-wildfire photos. The t-test was performed, and the P value for significance was determined to be 0.081 for the comparison of pre- and post-fire effects on biodiversity of the area when all species were combined.
There was a difference between the two Ruby site cameras when they were compared to each other. (This was not as much the case with the Control site cameras.) For example, in August at the Ruby site, Ruby Camera 1 recorded 301 individuals while Camera 2 only had 128. However, in March the two cameras were reversed, and Ruby 2 recorded 158 animals while Ruby 1 recorded 92. Ruby 1 had the widest fluctuations of all the cameras, while Control 1 had the least, fluctuating from 10 to 12 animals, while Ruby 1 fluctuated from 0 to 301 in August. Ruby 2, however, evened out over the three months.
A chi-squared analysis of the data was performed revealing which species had similar activity patterns at the 95% level. Only those species that had 25 or more captured photos were considered, due to statistical restraints in comparisons with an N of less than that. At Ruby 1 there were no significant similarities found. This was primarily due to the lack of N’s over 25 for any species. At Ruby 2, there were some significant activity patterns. The gray fox’s activity pattern was determined to have a significant similarity with the javelina’s and puma’s. The javelina’s activity pattern had a significant similarity with that of the puma.
Pre- and Post-Fire Data Analysis by Percentage of Species: Ruby Site
An analysis of the data reveals that the species that increased the most after the fire was deer, going to 38% from 10%. Also increasing were cottontail rabbits and javelina, both increasing to 9% from 2%. Species that stayed the same were the puma, at 4%, coyote at 1% and skunk at 1%. The species that declined after the fire was humans, to 32% from 57%. The gray fox declined to 3% from 13%. Humans on horseback also declined. Species that never returned after the fire were turkey and bobcat (down from 2%). Species that appeared for the first time after the fire were cattle.
Pre- and Post-Fire Data Analysis by Percentage of Species: Control Site
An analysis of the data reveals that the species that increased the most after the fire was deer, which increased to 12% from 4%. The gray fox increased to 11% from 5%. Humans declined from 73% to 62% during the time of this project. The puma declined to 4% from 9%. The bobcat declined as well, to 2% from 5%. The domestic dog declined to 1% from 4% following the fire. No species stayed the same, unlike the Ruby site. Also unlike the Ruby site, there were only six species present before the fire while 12 species appeared after the fire. Species that were observed following the fire but not before were javelina, mouse, squirrel, and bird, at 1% each. Coati and cottontail rabbit species appeared at the 2% level.
Analysis by Consumer Level (Predator/Prey)
Before the wildfire, the number of predators fluctuated at approximately the same rate as their prey. There is a relationship because as prey numbers go up, predator populations rise as well. During the 17 days of the fire, both predator and prey species declined to 0 species observed. However, following the fire, this pattern was broken. The predator populations remained approximately the same while prey numbers went up dramatically. The peak of that difference was in mid-August, when predators were at six individuals and prey animals were at 265 individuals. By mid-October the prey declined and returned to a level approximately equal to the numbers observed before the fire.
Hypothesis 1—Identified Species Pre- and Post-Wildfire—must be REJECTED.
“There will be no difference in the wildlife species identified in the defined wildfire area when comparing pre-wildfire photos to post-wildfire photos.”
There were differences in the wildlife species identified in the defined fire area when comparing pre-wildfire photos to post-wildfire photos. There were several species that were present before the fire that did not reappear for several months following the fire. For example, the gray fox followed the pattern of being present in 13% of photos before the fire and declined significantly to 3% in the months following the fire. Human presence also dropped from 57% to 32%.
Some species appeared in the area in high numbers following the fire although they were not observed in the months before the fire in such great numbers. For example, deer were camera-trapped in the months before the fire in 10% of the photos. After the fire, their numbers significantly increased, to 38% of photos. Cottontail rabbit and javelina increased to 9% from 2% as well.
There was a difference in the rate of reappearance and recovery for each type of species when comparing pre-wildfire photos to post-wildfire photos. Several species returned rather quickly while others were slow to return or did not seem to return at all. For example, bobcats and turkeys were present before the fire in 2% of the photos and never returned following the fire. Cattle (1%) appeared after never being observed previously.
Hypothesis 2—Comparison of Species Sighted Pre- and Post-Wildfire in a Control Area Versus a Wildfire Area—must be REJECTED.
There will be no difference in the frequency (number of sightings) of each species either before or after a wildfire when comparing the Control location to the Wildfire location.
There was a difference in the frequency (number of sightings) of several species before and after a wildfire when comparing the Control location to the Wildfire location. For example, in the Control location there was very little fluctuation in the number of species before and following the fire. However, in the Fire location, there were several species that had wide fluctuations in numbers.
Broken down as predator and prey animals, the Control location followed the same trend, with very little variation for almost the entire study. The Fire location follows that trend up to the fire; then there are dramatic differences in the range of species observed. For example, in August predators were at one of their lowest observed points, at six individuals, while prey peaked at 265 individuals.
There are clear implications for further thought and research provided by this study.
Any conclusions based on the results of this project are limited. The following factors must be taken into account when generalizing results to other populations and areas:
ASACTD, or Automatic Storage and Analysis of Camera Trap Data System: This newly developed system of collecting, storing and analyzing data was published in July 2010 and was used in this study.
Remote-sensing cameras: One per location selected by the Sky Island Alliance so that the biodiversity of fauna could be observed and analyzed without disturbing the ecosystem.
Batteries: Four D and four AA batteries per camera, per month to replace in cameras.
SanDisk SD Cardswith 2 GB each and Q Memory Cards with 2 GB to replace when checking cameras and exchanging cards.
Map resources: HabiMap web site, RainSource web site and National Park maps described current fire conditions, the areas involved or affected, and the mitigating factors/conditions that exist in each area.
Topographical map: To help establish the type of terrain that must be crossed to reach the remote-sensing cameras and to plan route.
Trailhead map for southern Arizona: Used to identify established trails as long as possible before going off-trail to reach cameras.
GPS positioning system: To help find coordinates for camera locations.
Coordinates: Longitude and latitude used to specifically locate each camera and trailhead and to mark the location of scat, tracks, etc.
Rulers and tracking bi-ruler: Used to add measurement perspective when taking photographs of tracks, scat or terrain.
Tracking and scat quick identification sheet: Used when trying to determine which species left tracks, picture of tracks, typical gait patterns of species.
Emergency supplies: Small emergency items such as Band-Aids, tweezers for removal of cactus spines, a whistle and water bottles.
Transportation: Car with four-wheel drive and high clearance to get to the remote locations of the cameras with a driver.
Personal camera/phone camera: To record various species’ tracks and scat for later examination.
Binoculars: To see in the distance when locating cameras and for species sightings.
Calculator/watch: To determine size and distances, convert from metric, keep track of time, and record the time of an observation.
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This winning entry in the Museum's Young Naturalist Awards 2012 is from a ninth grader. In 2011, when wildfires burned over one million acres of Arizona forest and grassland, Meagan decided to investigate the effects on the area’s wildlife. She gained access to remote sensing cameras located in a park that had been affected by the fire, and compared them with photographs taken from her own cameras in an area unaffected by the fire. Her essay presents:
Have students explore the process of science with a discussion based on this essay.