Differential response to fire by an introduced and an endemic species complicates endangered species conservation
Fire is a natural component of, and serves as a tool for, the restoration of forested ecosystems worldwide; however, disturbance due to fire also has been implicated in the proliferation of invasive species. How these fires affect occupancy and use of the forest by wildlife is of great concern, in particular, the differential response of non-native and native species. In the North American Southwest, prior to European settlement, frequent wildfires helped to maintain forest structure. We examined the effect of a large wildfire on an introduced population of the Abert’s squirrel (Sciurus aberti) that has invaded the high elevation forests inhabited by the critically endangered Mt. Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus fremonti grahamensis). We found that introduced Abert’s squirrels were more common than native red squirrels in burned areas. Abert’s squirrels did not abandon burned areas but nested, foraged, and did not adjust their home range size in burned areas. This suggests that invasive Abert’s squirrels are better able to exploit burned areas than native red squirrels and that fire can favor non-native species. This interaction between non-native species, native species, and fire adds new insight into the complexities of conservation and restoration of ecosystems and helps to inform conservation activities worldwide.