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Project ID: 13-1-04-49

Year: 2013

Date Started: 10/01/2013

Ending Date:  09/30/2017

Title: Restoration Synchrony of Fuels and Community Composition in Fire-Excluded Oak-Hickory Woodlands in North Mississippi

Project Proposal Abstract: This proposal directly addresses a need for information regarding the overlap between fire hazard reduction and ecosystem restoration as described in the 2013 JFSP FON 13-1-04 Fuels treatment effectiveness: ecosystem restoration. The issues described in FON 13-1-04 are particularly relevant in southeastern fire-prone oak-hickory (Quercus-Carya) woodland management where decades of fire exclusion have resulted in ecosystems with altered structure, composition, and function and with novel fuels that burn with uncharacteristic intensity and effects. Results from this study will answer manager and scientific questions specifically related to the FON by evaluating metrics of fuels treatment and ecosystem restoration effectiveness, the utility of these metrics, and the effects at management-relevant temporal and spatial scales. Fire-maintained woodlands were an important component of the eastern USA landscape. Widespread 20th century fire exclusion enabled fire-sensitive, shade-tolerant hardwoods to establish and prosper in previously fire-maintained oak and oak-hickory woodlands. These fire-sensitive species produced a more closed canopy than the historically open, sparse canopies of oak-hickory woodlands, leading to losses of groundcover plant diversity, widespread oak regeneration failure, and reduced community flammability, a process recently described as mesophication. Despite the hypothesized reduction in flammability, the increased potential fuel loads generated during fire suppression have created the potential for catastrophic wildfires during extreme weather events. Hence, ecological restoration of historic fire regimes could play an important role in both ecosystem restoration and wildfire hazard reduction. Reintroduction of fire alone has not proven sufficient to restore fire-dependent ecosystems of the eastern US where fire-sensitive tree species have reached sizes that survive the low intensity surface fires now typical in these dampened environments. In addition, these fires lack the severity to open the canopy in order to facilitate the recovery of herbaceous species composition indicative of open woodlands. Some combination of persistent canopy openings and repeated burning appears to be necessary to promote a diverse groundcover dominated by open woodland vegetation and establishment of desired tree species Burning, however, will require sufficient intensity to result in greater topkill of mesophytic saplings and effectively reduce fuel loads. If mesophication has dramatically reduced community flammability, restoring "fuel quality" (combined characteristics that promote flammability) will be necessary to ensure ecological restoration in these historically fire-prone ecosystems. Due to the recency of most restoration-fuels treatments in the region, managers lack information on many critical aspects of these joint treatments including: 1) the effects of time-since-treatment on vegetation recovery (in this region, primarily herbaceous establishment); 2) recovery of herbaceous fuelbed characteristics over time (bulk density, fuelbed depth, horizontal fuel continuity); and 3) the degree of temporal and spatial coincidence of recovery of fuels and biodiversity. Providing useful metrics that characterize the effectiveness of these treatments for restoration-fuels treatments will be a major contribution of the proposed research. These metrics, combined with a greater understanding of the temporal and spatial scale of these responses will inform management and our understanding of eastern US woodland ecology.

Principal Investigator: Morgan J. Varner III

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: PNW-AirFire Research Team

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Penny P. French

Mississippi State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Budget Contact

Mary A. Kelly

Mississippi State University

Department of Forestry

Co-Principal Investigator

John S. Brewer

University of Mississippi

Department of Biology

Co-Principal Investigator

Jesse K. Kreye

Mississippi State University

Department of Forestry

Funding Cooperator

Andrew W. Ezell

Mississippi State University

Department of Forestry

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network









Project Deliverables

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Supporting Documents

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