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Forests 2018, 9(7), 423; https://doi.org/10.3390/f9070423

Fire Season, Overstory Density and Groundcover Composition Affect Understory Hardwood Sprout Demography in Longleaf Pine Woodlands

Jones Ecological Research Center, Newton, GA 39870, USA
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Received: 10 May 2018 / Revised: 13 June 2018 / Accepted: 13 July 2018 / Published: 14 July 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Longleaf Pine)
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Abstract

Seasonal timing of prescribed fire and alterations to the structure and composition of fuels in savannas and woodlands can release understory hardwoods, potentially resulting in a global increase of closed-canopy forest and a loss of biodiversity. We hypothesized that growing-season fire, high overstory density, and wiregrass presence in longleaf pine woodlands would reduce the number and stature of understory hardwoods, and that because evergreen hardwoods retain live leaves, dormant-season fire would reduce performance and survival of evergreen more than deciduous hardwoods. Understory hardwood survival and height were monitored over seven years in longleaf pine woodlands in southwest Georgia with a range of overstory density, groundcover composition, and season of application of prescribed fire. Hardwood stem survival decreased with increasing overstory density, and deciduous hardwoods were more abundant in the absence of wiregrass. Contrary to expectations, evergreen hardwood growth increased following dormant-season fire. Differences in hardwood stem survival and height suggest that low fire intensity in areas with low overstory density increase the risk that hardwoods will grow out of the understory. These results indicate a need for focused research into the effects of groundcover composition on hardwood stem dynamics and emphasize that adequate overstory density is important in longleaf ecosystem management. View Full-Text
Keywords: longleaf pine; fire ecology; wiregrass; Aristida stricta Michx.; forest dynamics; understory hardwood management longleaf pine; fire ecology; wiregrass; Aristida stricta Michx.; forest dynamics; understory hardwood management
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).
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Whelan, A.W.; Bigelow, S.W.; Nieminen, M.F.; Jack, S.B. Fire Season, Overstory Density and Groundcover Composition Affect Understory Hardwood Sprout Demography in Longleaf Pine Woodlands. Forests 2018, 9, 423.

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