CAREER: A Keystone Species Approach to Determining Post-fire Successional Influence on Cavity user Communities in the Black Hills, South Dakota Grant uri icon



  • A keystone species is a species whose effects on a community are much larger than would be predicted from their abundance. Identification of keystone species within a system is critical to understanding how communities presently function and how they might respond to future environmental changes. Fire is a natural process in western Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests, but human activities (i.e. logging and fire suppression) have altered fire frequencies and intensities. This project will address the influence of fire on the relative importance and possible keystone function of different woodpecker species on the secondary cavity user (SCU) community in pine forests in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Secondary cavity users do not excavate the cavities that they occupy for nesting and roosting. I will examine woodpecker and SCU communities in three types of treatments: unburned (i.e. control), prescribed fire, and old burn treatments. The prescribed fire treatments will undergo two years of pre-burn analysis before application of a prescribed burn. The focus of forests in different stages of post-fire succession will allow for an examination of the dynamic influence of fire on the woodpeckers and the SCU communities. The relative importance of individual woodpecker species to the SCU community will be determined by monitoring the use of woodpecker cavities during both the breeding season and non-breeding season. Wind Cave National Park will be the primary site for field research and for a field ecology curriculum to be taught to American Indian students. This study provides a unique opportunity to integrate research and ecological educational activities with American Indian students by combining a culturally relevant field site (Wind Cave) with culturally relevant animals (woodpeckers). The field ecology experiences will be the result of collaboration between the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T), Oglala Lakota College (OLC), and the SDSM&T Scientific Knowledge for Indian Learning and Leadership (SKILL) program. The combination of research activities and educational activities at Wind Cave will provide excellent opportunities to integrate research and education to a group that has traditionally been underrepresented in the sciences.

date/time interval

  • January 1, 2005 - February 28, 2009

total award amount

  • 445,323