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PREreview of Behavioral plasticity allows ungulates to balance risk and reward following megafire

CC BY 4.0


Calhoun et al. used GPS data from 24 individual doe over the course of a year to investigate whether and how deer alter habitat selection and behavioral decisions to adjust to novel landscape conditions following megafire. They found that deer avoided exposed and severely burned areas immediately following megafire, but later they altered this behavior to eventually select for areas that burned at higher severities to potentially take advantage of enhanced forage in these recovering areas. This study will move the scientific field forward because using the results of dear behavior could help identify if further conservation interventions are needed for populations across the US following megafire and other ungulate populations globally. With the rise of global temperatures and climate change, understanding animal’s behavioral plasticity will help in conservation aid. This study merits publication once the requested additional recommended edits are provided.

Major Strengths

Major strengths of the paper include a precise abstract that properly introduces and summarizes the study’s hypotheses, methods, and conclusions. The flow of the paper was simple and easy to follow. The necessity for the study and future implications of their findings are clearly stated. Lastly, in lines 423-427 and 442-444 of the discussion, the authors provide a possible further study inspired by the findings of this study.

Major Critiques

While the Results and Discussion both provided valuable and necessary interpretations and conclusions of the study, they are slightly repetitive and wordy. To address this weakness, the authors should either combine the two sections or keep them separate and make each more concise.  Most of the figures are clear and easy to understand, however, the coloring of Figure S1.1 makes it challenging to decipher. The colors representing the different vegetation types are too similar and difficult to differentiate. Making the colors more distinctive is necessary for easy interpretation of this figure. Lastly, the caption of Figure S1.4 lacks context and needs more explanation to add importance to this graph.

Minor Critiques

Megafires/ “high severity fires” are defined as “wildfires that surpass the size and severity of historical fires” on line 50 and “fires that burn the dominant vegetation type in an ecosystem” on lines 62-63. This definition lacks clarity about the geological distance that defines a megafire. To better define “megafire,” the authors should include a range of possible areas impacted that would be considered a megafire. Furthermore, in lines 96-105 of the introduction, the authors present the specifics of the study, examining 24 black-tail deer for one year in areas of high megafire frequency. To add a control to this study, the authors should also study black-tail deer (or a similar species) in a non-megafire-frequent area. They could then compare the behaviors of these two different groups.

Competing interests

The author declares that they have no competing interests.