Evaluating the impact of post-fire succession on the diversity and abundance of small mammals in a high elevation ecosystem

College of Natural Sciences




Primary Topic:

Natural Resources and Sustainability

Other Topics:

No additional topic areas, only my selection from previous question

Lead Mentor:  

Tanya Dewey

Assistant Professor

Internship Overview:

The CSU Mountain Campus is located in a unique, relatively well-studied, high elevation ecosystem, with habitats ranging from riparian brush, mesic to dry meadow, coniferous forest, and alpine tundra. In 2020 large areas of the campus were impacted by the Cameron Peak Fire, with both preventive burns (back-burning) and high intensity fire impacting the largely coniferous forest along the north side of the valley occupied by the Mountain Campus (South Fork Cache la Poudre River). Although the CSU Mountain Campus has been a site for study and research for over 110 years, there has been little, basic research on small mammal diversity and abundance. Larger species, such as moose and deer, have been the focus on research for many years and the ground squirrel species in the central campus area have been intensively studied for the last five years. However, basic information on what species of small mammal (rodents and shrews) are found on campus, in which habitats, and at what relative densities, has not been collected systematically.

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

The Field Mammalogy course at CSU (BZ 340) has been opportunistically collecting data on small mammals on campus and, in 2022, began to systematically sample habitats with standard trapping grids in order to assess abundance. Sampling grids were established in all habitats, including unburned and burned areas. Available research on the impact of fire on forest succession and small mammal populations in North American ecosystems has demonstrated some predicted patterns in changes of diversity and abundance. However, this research is restricted in scope and it is unclear how generalizable it is to other places. The CSU Mountain Campus provides an ideal situation to test these patterns as post-fire forest succession proceeds. This project will systematically survey and estimate population abundance of species of small mammal along a habitat gradient from riparian to burned and unburned coniferous forest.

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

Information will be shared with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, and USFS Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest.

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

This internship will take place largely at CSUʻs Mountain Campus (8 weeks), with analysis completed on campus (2 weeks). The intern will engage with CSU faculty and researchers at Mountain Campus, student volunteers, and both extension service and Colorado Natural Heritage Program staff. The intern will gain field expertise in safe small mammal capture and handling protocols, including taking measurements and calculating species abundance. The intern will be responsible for analyzing species, abundance, and demographic data in order to assess the composition of small mammal communities and evaluate the impact of fire succession on those communities in different habitats. The intern will also be invited to collaborate on manuscript writing for academic publication and present their work at a local or national conference.
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