Endemic population response to increasingly severe fire: A cascade of endangerment for the Mt. Graham red squirrel
Drought, past fire suppression, insect invasion, and high-severity fire represent a disturbance cascade characteristic of forests in the western United States. The result is altered forest ecosystems diminished in their function and capacity to support biodiversity. Small habitat specialists are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of disturbances because of their limited movement capacity and high site fidelity. Research suggests that small mammals suffer limited direct mortality from fire but are increasingly vulnerable to local extirpation because of secondary impacts that include habitat loss and reduced food availability, survival, and reproduction. We examine the direct and secondary impacts of increasingly severe fire events on the endangered Mt. Graham red squirrel—a model system to demonstrate how disturbances can threaten the persistence of range-limited species. We document survival, space use, and displacement prior to and following fires and discuss implications for conservation. We suggest that management plans address future threats, including disturbance-related habitat loss.