Effects of Fire Regimes on Southern Pine Communities

Frequency of fire has a dominating effect on the ecology of southern U.S. pine ecosystems. Increasing evidence suggests that lightning strike-initiated fires once maintained mostly 1-3 year fire intervals in natural pine forests, and that such frequent fire is necessary for maintaining native biodiversity and wildlife. The fragmentation of the modern landscape requires us to replace natural fires with prescribed fire. However, resource constraints and other barriers to burning cause most pinelands to be burned much less frequently, if at all. The Fire Ecology Program conducts research to better understand what is the appropriate fire frequency needed to achieve specific land management goals, including biodiversity, wildlife management, and fire hazard reduction.

The Fire Ecology Program makes us of use of various Tall Timbers long-term studies, including research plots established in 1962 and burned at different fire frequencies ever since (Tall Timbers Stoddard Fire Plots), plots established in longleaf pine-wiregrass pine communities in 2005 (Pebble Hill Fire Plots), and a once frequently burned area that has been excluded since 1966 (NB66). These long-term studies allow measurements of effects of fire frequency for a wide range of ecological variables, including plant species richness, community structure, hardwood stem topkill, fuel loading, fire behavior, pine and hardwood tree demography, soil nutrient and carbon cycling, and wildlife habitat quality.

3-year, 2-year, and 1-year fire interval on Tall Timbers Fire Plots (Stoddard Plots), Tallahassee, FL. Photos by Kevin Robertson.

3-year, 2-year, and 1-year fire interval on Tall Timbers Fire Plots (Stoddard Plots), Tallahassee, FL. Photos by Kevin Robertson.

References:

Robertson, K.M. and T.E. Ostertag. 2007. Effects of land use on fuel characteristics and fire behavior in pinelands of southwest Georgia. Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference Proceedings 23:181-191.

Robertson, K.M. and T.E. Ostertag.  2003.  Fuel characteristics and fire behavior predictions in native and old-field pinelands in the Red Hills Region, southwest Georgia.  Proceedings of the 2nd International Wildland Fire and Fire Management Congress, Orlando, FL.

Robertson, K.M. 2009. Effects of fire regime on Upland Pine Forests wildlife habitat. Final Report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, Tallahassee, FL.

Glitzenstein, J.S., D.R. Streng, R.E. Masters, K.M. Robertson, and S.M. Hermann. 2012. Fire-frequency effects on vegetation in north Florida pinelands: Another look at the long-term Stoddard Fire Research Plots at Tall Timbers Research Station. Forest Ecology and Management 264:197-209.

Robertson, K.M. and T.L. Hmielowski. 2014. Effects of fire frequency and season on resprouting of woody plants in southerastern US pine-grassland communities. Oecologia 174:765-776.

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