By Katie A. Stovall, North Carolina Forest Service
Presented on January 5, 2021
Prescribed fire is an increasingly important management tool for eastern deciduous forests, but relativity little is known about the direct effects of fire on the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). We used very high frequency (VHF) transmitters to monitor mortality, movement, and spatial ecology of 118 box turtles in response to 17 prescribed fires across 4 seasons and 3 sites in east Tennessee, USA, during 2016–2018. Annual survival of box turtles that experienced a prescribed fire event was lower (0.87 ± 0.04 [SE]) than turtles that did not (0.98 ± 0.01) and was negatively correlated with fire intensity, fire temperature the turtle experienced, and litter depth. All prescribed fire‐related mortalities occurred during the early (Apr–May, n = 5) or late growing season (Sep–Oct, n = 1). Fourteen percent of box turtles we captured exhibited damage to their carapace from previous fire events. Box turtles that survived prescribed fires were in microsites that did not burn, moved to unburned areas during the fire, or burrowed following ignition. Home range size was similar before and after burns and sinuosity of movements did not differ in burned or unburned areas. Our results indicate that though box turtles are susceptible to prescribed fire during their active season, they have behavioral and physical traits that reduce the direct effects of prescribed fire. Prescribed fire practitioners should be aware of the risks of fire, particularly during the active season. We suggest managers consider altering prescribed fire intensity, seasonality, and firing pattern to minimize risk of direct effects where box turtles are of concern.