Aim Two main mechanisms may explain post-disturbance species colonization patterns of early successional habitats such as those originated by wildfires. First, post-disturbance colonization is not limited by the dispersal ability of the species to reach the newly created open areas and, secondly, colonization is limited by dispersal. Under the first hypothesis, we expect, at a regional scale, to find similar post-disturbance communities to develop on recently burned sites. However, colonization limited by dispersal will lead to strong between-site variations in species composition.
Location To test these hypotheses, we studied the post-fire colonization patterns of nine open-habitat bird species in eight distantly located wildfires in the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula.
Methods We censused post-fire bird composition by means of field transects and identified potential colonization sources from species–habitat suitability maps derived from atlas data.
Results Our results showed strong significant differences in post-fire species composition between burnt areas. Burnt areas located in areas with low probability of species presence before the fire event showed lower species occurrence and richness after the fire.
Main conclusions These results do not support the idea that early successional stages and open habitats have a homogeneous community structure at regional scales and suggest that dispersal is a key constraint determining bird colonization of post-fire habitats. Further attention should be paid to landscape heterogeneity as a key factor in determining population dynamics of open-habitat species in the light of current and future land-use changes in Mediterranean regions.