New project to study the benefits of restoring pine-grassland

The Fire Ecology Program was recently awarded a grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the ecological and societal benefits of restoring pines and frequent fire to land with a history of agriculture. The original longleaf pine-grasslands of southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain have mostly been converted to crop lands, pasture, pine plantation, fire-excluded hardwood forests, or urban development. These changes often bring reduction in ecosystem services, such as clean water yield to rivers and lakes, plant biodiversity, wildlife habitat, pollinators, nutrient retention, and others. Restoration of pine-grasslands, which includes the reintroduction of frequent fire, is expected to reverse the loss of many of these ecosystems services, but there has been little work to measure the effects of such restoration on previously disturbed habitats, or how quickly it results in various benefits over time.

Longleaf pine-grassland

Longleaf pine-grassland ten years after planting and re-introduction of fire. Photo by Kevin Robertson

Funds for the study will be used to hire a field biologist for two years to measure plant species composition, soil characteristics, forest structure, and bee abundance and diversity in areas that vary in time since restoration of pines and fire within and around the Red Hills Region. We will also compare restored areas with crop lands, pasture, unburned pine plantations, and native longleaf pinelands to assess benefits relative to other land uses and assess to what degree historic ecosystem services can be restored with fire and timber management alone.  

The project was funded as a “seed grant” to gather preliminary information for a project with broader scope to be potentially funded in the future. The larger project would use the information from the current study to predict effects of restoring 20% of local agroecosystems (landscapes dominated by typical rural land uses) to pine-grassland under different climate and economic scenarios. Look for updates on this new project in future eNews articles.

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