Peterman said the Chimney Tops 2 Fire in November 2016 and the Camp Branch Fire in Western North Carolina the same year had an impact on these salamanders.
He said wildfires had “significantly impacted” salamanders from the plethodontid family, more than studies had shown controlled burns to do. He said the plethodontid abundance dropped the further the study got from unburned habitats, which was true of every species of the 12 at which the study looked. He said however there were indications the plethodontids were coming back to older areas, and that the “spatial pattern” of how this occurred was an opportunity for further research.
In response to questions, he said the reasoning behind the decline in the salamanders' abundance was “mixed.” Sometimes, he said, they died directly in the fire, while other times they might have been affected by food or habitat.
Peterman was not the only one at the meeting who spoke about wildfires' effects. Margaret Cumberland, the flora field ecologist at the Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau Domain which is part of Battelle’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) spoke generally of the different field research stations her organization operated. One area of her research involved herbaceous biomass and fire’s effects on it.
“I’ve been out there for many years after the fire looking at the effects,” she said. Her graph overall showed woody stemmed plants already on a decline in terms of biomass before the fire and continuing to decline after it, before trending back up and peaking in 2019. After that point they hit another decline and recovery.
Different kinds of species are coming back as saplings, some faster than others. She said, however, she and her organization were in the business of gathering data, not interpreting it.
“We don’t analyze it ourselves,” she said. “Please use our data and look for key effects.”
Graham Montgomery with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, spoke to the effects the 2016 fire had on bird species. His talk focused on studies showing the park’s bird species over time and their distribution. He said certain species are colonizing brushier areas that have grown since the fires.
“It’s been good for bird diversity and species richness,” he said.