How are fires in western Mexico affecting hummingbirds?
The Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve in western Mexico has long been recognized as a hummingbird hotspot. Fire is an important component of the landscape, with the majority set by people to clear land for agriculture. Sarahy Contreras wants to know how fires of varying intensities and frequencies are affecting hummingbird populations in the reserve. Initial results suggest that impacts differ by species, with some species preferring recently burned areas while others remain absent for many years until the pine-oak forest structure returns. Results of the study will inform recommendations for conservation and forest management in the region, and will also provide insight into how hummingbirds may be affected by an increasing presence of fires in western Mexico that current models of global climate change predict.
The biosphere reserve where Professor Contreras works has long been recognized as a hummingbird hotspot. Of the 24 hummingbird species that occur in the state of Jalisco, 23 of them are found within the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve. The reserve sits in the mountainous area of western Mexico, which during the winter harbors the highest diversity and abundance of terrestrial migratory birds throughout the Neotropical region. But the reserve is not just for birds and the pine-oak forests which dominate its landscape. Nearly 400,000 people live within and around the reserve as well.
Fire has traditionally been an important component of the landscape in western Mexico and an important tool for its people. The majority of fires are set by people to clear land for agriculture. On occasion, these fires escape and can burn quite large areas. Some of these wildfires are of relatively low intensity, primarily burning the shrub layer and rarely reaching tree crowns. Other fires are severe – burning everything up to and including the tree crowns. A large effort is currently underway in the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve to change local attitudes and practices related to fire. Part of this project is an increase in capacity to put out fires once they are started. Another important component of the project is education for the communities inside the biosphere on the natural resources in the reserve and how those resources and species are affected by fires.
The results of the study will be important for the conservation of hummingbirds, identifying the particular habitats that different species depend on, and how populations of those species respond to the presence of different intensities and frequencies of fire on the landscape. Results will be translated into recommendations for conservation and forest management within the region that may benefit both resident hummingbirds and migratory species which overwinter in the reserve. The study will also provide insight into how hummingbird populations may be affected an increasing presence of fire in western Mexico that current models of global climate change predict.