Tree Stumps from Tyndall Air Force Base Reveal Fire History
The Southeastern Coastal Plain Tree-Ring Laboratory at Tall Timbers continues its effort to reconstruct the history of fire in longleaf pine ecosystems by exploring new sites. The lab is administered by the Fire Ecology Program (Kevin Robertson and Monica Rother) along with research associate Jean Huffman. Last month, Robertson and Rother completed a successful expedition to Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Florida. Huffman had previously scouted the area back in 2014 and was impressed by the presence of large, old stumps in certain locations. Our most recent trip resulted in the collection of 33 stumps, all from a flatwoods site in the southeastern portion of the Air Force Base.
Fieldwork for this type of research is generally time and labor intensive. However, we benefited from the support of Tyndall Forester Dann Childs and Forestry Technician Richard Turner who used their heavy equipment (an excavator and a front-end loader) to remove the stumps from the ground and load them for transport back to Tall Timbers. Heavy equipment is not necessary for this type of research but significantly improves time efficiency. Although we have not yet processed the stumps for analysis, our initial cuts uncovered evidence of repeated fire scarring, so we are optimistic about the prospects of using this site to learn details regarding historic fires.
Now that the stumps have been collected, our next step will be to slice each one into smaller sections and sand those sections to improve the visibility of the tree rings. We will then scan the wood and carefully date the rings with the help of specialized software. We do not yet know when the trees lived and died, but it seems likely that at least some of the stumps will date back into the 1700s, possibly earlier. Ultimately, we hope our findings will help put frequent fire in its historic context as an essential ecosystem process in addition to being a present day land management tool.
Top right - An old stump that will hopefully contain information regarding historic fires within its tree rings.
Center left - Monica Rother of Tall Timbers and Dann Childs of Tyndall Air Force Base near the excavator used to collect stumps from a flatwoods site.
Center right - Kevin Robertson uses a chainsaw to downsize a recently excavated stump. The basal portion of the stump will be used in the tree-ring analysis.
Bottom left - Stumps loaded and ready for transport back to Tall Timbers.