Small mammals exhibit limited spatiotemporal structure in Sierra Nevada forests

Douglas A. Kelt, Dirk H. Van Vuren, Michael L. Johnson, James A. Wilson, Robin J. Innes, Brett R. Jesmer, Katherine P. Ingram, Jaya R. Smith, Seth W. Bigelow, Ryan D. Burnett, Peter A. Stine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Forests in the Sierra Nevada, similar to those across the continent, have been substantially altered by logging, fire exclusion, and other human activities. Current forest management emphasizes maintenance or restoration of resiliency in the face of contemporary disturbance factors that include wildfire, climate change, continued urbanization, and invasive species. We evaluated responses of small mammals to forest management by monitoring a series of 12 replicate trapping grids in compositionally homogeneous forest over 8 years, and implemented 2 levels of canopy thinning. Livetrapping efforts (119,712 trap-nights) yielded 15,613 captures of 2,305 individuals of 13 species, and although forest structure was significantly influenced by canopy treatments, small mammal numbers and assemblage composition were not. To better understand this we assessed habitat associations of small mammals at 599 census points on 75 transects established in a stratified random manner throughout Plumas National Forest. We analyzed these data with 2 complementary forms of constrained ordination (canonical correspondence and canonical correlation) that extract major gradients in 1 data set (e.g., distribution of small mammal captures) and explain these in terms of measured variables from a 2nd data set (e.g., habitat and environmental measurements). Over 3 years and 57,504 trap-nights of effort we captured 1,367 individuals of 11 species. Both forms of ordination exposed significant associations between small mammals and underlying habitat metrics, but they explained remarkably little variation in these data, suggesting that small mammals are responding only modestly to habitat variation as expressed by the available environmental variables measured at each plot. We followed this with stepwise multiple Poisson regression to build models of habitat associations of these species. We applied model-averaging and employed Akaike's information criterion corrected for small sample size (AICc) to evaluate candidate models. Reflecting ordination results, competitive models (e.g., those with Akaike differences ΔAICc < 2.0) cumulatively explained little variation (12-36%) and regression coefficients were very low. Hence, both ordination and Poisson multiple regression suggest that the limited response by small mammals to canopy thinning primarily reflects the generalist habits of the common species in this forest. We propose that anthropogenic influences have led to structural homogenization of these forests, even across > 800 m of elevation, such that habitat specialists (e.g., old-forest-dependent species such as Myodes Clethrionomys californicus and Glaucomys sabrinus) have become less common due to the lack of suitable habitat. Further efforts should target nonforested habitats (meadows and riparian corridors), but results presented here suggest that managers should strive to increase heterogeneity at large spatial scales and especially to promote the development of mature forest structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1197-1213
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • SierraNevada
  • forestmanagement
  • habitat associations
  • montane smallmammals
  • ordination
  • stepwisemultiple regression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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