Tall Timbers Season of Fire Study at New Research Plots

Throughout the years, we have often been asked for guidance regarding the effects of season of fire on various aspects of upland pine communities, including woody plant re-sprouting, value for wildlife habitat, flowering of native plant species, effects on pine tree growth and survival, and ease of burning, to name a few. Much of our prior research has focused simply on dormant season versus growing season burning. At the beginning of this year, we worked with Tall Timbers’ Land Management and Administration staff to set up long-term research plots on Tall Timbers that we have begun to burn in winter (December–January), spring (March–April), summer (June–July), and fall (September–October), to more closely study seasonal effects of fire. The plots are in shortleaf pine native groundcover, but within one-acre areas that were planted with longleaf pine in the late 1990s.

The Fire Ecology Lab’s primary interest in the project was to better understand seasonal effects of fire on woody plant re-sprouting vigor, and survival of whole plants to help managers use season of fire as a tool for adjusting woody plant dominance. However, several additional research projects have sprung from the plots. University of Florida doctoral student David Mason is using them to study the role of season of fire in attracting birds that disperse seeds of plants that are fruiting at that time, which may influence plant species composition through “directed dispersal.” University of Florida master’s student Emma Zeitler is using the plots to test the effects of season of fire on intensity of deer browse on re-sprouting woody plants. She is also investigating fire timing effects on dung beetle activity and resulting patterns of seed dispersal.

Doctoral student David Mason inspects an October burn in one of the new research plots.

Masters student Emma Zeitler sets up a trail cam to monitor deer browse following fall fire.

Research Director Morgan Varner and postdoc Timothy Shearman are using the plots to study seasonal effects of prescribed fire crown scorch of longleaf pine growth and survival. Forest Service entomologist Michael Ulyshen plans to use the plots to study seasonal fire effects on use by bee pollinators and bee community composition. The Fire Ecology Lab is also planning a long-term project to track timing of flowering in response to timing of fires. We look forward to learning a great deal from the plots through collaboration among a great group of interested scientists.



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