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Eight years of seasonal burning and herbicidal brush control influence sapling longleaf pine growth, understory vegetation, and the outcome of an ensuing wildfire

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To study how fire or herbicide use influences longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) overstory and understory vegetation, five treatments were initiated in a 5-6-year-old longleaf pine stand: check, biennial arborescent plant control by directed herbicide application, and biennial burning in March, May, or July. The herbicide or prescribed fire treatments were applied in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2005. All prescribed fires were intense and averaged 700kJ/s/m of fire front across all 12 burns. Using pretreatment variables as covariates, longleaf pine survival and volume per hectare were significantly less on the three prescribed fire treatments than on checks. Least-square means in 2006 for survival were 70, 65, 64, 58, and 56% and volume per hectare was 129, 125, 65, 84, and 80m³/ha on the check, herbicide, March-, May-, and July-burn treatments, respectively. A wildfire in March 2007 disproportionately killed pine trees on the study plots. In October 2007, pine volume per hectare was 85, 111, 68, 98, and 93m³/ha and survival was 32, 41, 53, 57, and 55% on the check, herbicide, March-, May-, and July-burn treatments, respectively, after dropping trees that died through January 2009 from the database. Understory plant cover was also affected by treatment and the ensuing wildfire. In September 2006, herbaceous plant cover averaged 4% on the two unburned treatments and 42% on the three prescribed fire treatments. Seven months after the wildfire, herbaceous plant cover averaged 42% on the two previously unburned treatments and 50% on the three prescribed fire treatments. Before the wildfire, understory tree cover was significantly greater on checks (15%) than on the other four treatments (1.3%), but understory tree cover was similar across all five treatments 7 months after the wildfire averaging 1.1%. The greater apparent intensity of the wildfire on the previously unburned treatments most likely resulted from a greater accumulation of fuels on the check and herbicide plots that also collectively had a higher caloric content than fuels on the biennially prescribed burned plots. These results showed the destructive force of wildfire to overstory trees in unburned longleaf pine stands while also demonstrating the rejuvenating effects of wildfire within herbaceous plant communities. They caution for careful reintroduction of prescribed fire even if fire was excluded for less than a decade.
Haywood, James D.
Includes references
Forest ecology and management 2009 June 30, v. 258, no. 3
Elsevier Science
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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