Quail on fire: changing fire regimes may benefit mountain quail in fire-adapted forests

Kristin M. Brunk, R. J. Gutiérrez, M. Zachariah Peery, C. Alina Cansler, Stefan Kahl, Connor M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Fire-adapted forests in western North America are experiencing rapid changes to fire regimes that are outside the range of historic norms. Some habitat-specialist species have been negatively impacted by increases in large, high-severity fire, yet, the responses of many species to fire, especially at longer time scales, remain ambiguous. We studied the response of a widely distributed species, the mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus), to wildfire across the Sierra Nevada of California, because its habitat selection patterns provided an opportunity to evaluate potentially contrasting responses among habitat specialists. Results: We used passive acoustic monitoring across > 22,000 km2 of the Sierra Nevada and Bayesian hierarchical occupancy modeling to conduct the first study of the effects of habitat, fire severity, and time since fire (1–35 years) on the occupancy of a little-understood management indicator species, the mountain quail. Mountain quail responded positively to high-severity fire and neutrally to low-moderate-severity fire. Occupancy of quail peaked 6–10 years after high-severity fire and remained high even 11–35 years after an area burned at high severity. Conclusions: Our work demonstrates that high-severity fire is strongly and positively related to mountain quail occupancy, which is a markedly different response than previously studied species that are also of management concern in the Sierra Nevada. Taken together, our results suggest that mountain quail may actually be “winners” in the face of altered fire regimes in the Sierra Nevada. Given the forecasted intensification of large, severe wildfires in many fire-adapted forests, understanding the ecology and nuanced fire responses of species beyond those that have been historically considered is an important and time-sensitive effort. The relationship between mountain quail and high-severity fire is a reminder that there will be both winners and losers as the dynamics of wildfire change in the era of climate change.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalFire Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Fire ecology
  • Habitat association
  • Mountain quail
  • Occupancy
  • Oreortyx pictus
  • Passive acoustic monitoring
  • Wildlife response to fire


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