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Keywords:

  • forest mesophication;
  • habitat structure;
  • prescribed burning;
  • restoration monitoring;
  • species diversity;
  • spiders;
  • tree thinning

Fire suppression has altered the uplands of northern Mississippi (U.S.A.). Once blanketed by open oak woodlands, this region is now experiencing mesophytic tree invasion, canopy closure, reduced oak regeneration, and herbaceous understory loss. In an attempt to reestablish historical conditions, experimental restoration was initiated through thinning and burning treatments. Our study, part of a comprehensive monitoring effort, is the first to examine the impact of oak woodland restoration on the spider community and associated habitat structure. Samples measuring a variety of environmental variables and utilizing an array of spider collecting techniques were taken within four habitats located at the restoration site: fire-suppressed forest, moderately treated forest, intensely treated forest, and old field. Two main conclusions resulted from this study. (1) Open-habitat specialists responded positively to increased canopy openness regardless of the availability of herbaceous vegetation. (2) Woodland restoration increased spider diversity, perhaps through the formation of diverse habitat structure and/or by altering species dominance patterns. A rise in open-habitat specialist diversity was observed as treatment intensity increased, with no compensatory reduction in the diversity of forest specialists. What remains to be seen is whether the continued transition to open woodland habitat will result in losses of forest specialist species. More aggressive overstory tree thinning is currently being administered to encourage the growth of herbaceous grasses and forbs, which will permit future tests of a hypothesized decline in forest specialists.