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Open AccessArticle

Understory Vegetation Responses to 15 Years of Repeated Fuel Reduction Treatments in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA

1
Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0331, USA
2
USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Clemson, SC 29634-0331, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2019, 10(4), 350; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10040350
Received: 8 March 2019 / Revised: 8 April 2019 / Accepted: 16 April 2019 / Published: 20 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Forest Ecology and Management)
Decades of fire exclusion in the Southern Appalachian Mountains led to fuel accumulation and conversion from open oak-pine woodlands to closed-canopy mesic forests dominated by shade-tolerant hardwoods and shrubs that often do not support a diverse understory. Southern Appalachian forest managers and scientists recognize this and are implementing silvicultural treatments such as prescribed burning, mechanical treatments or a combination of these to restore forest structure. In this study, conducted at the Southern Appalachian Fire and Fire Surrogate Study site in Green River Game Land, North Carolina, we assessed the effects of four fuel reduction methods: burned 4x (B), mechanical treatment 2x (M), mechanical treatment 2x + burned 4x (MB), and control (C) on the changes in understory vegetation guilds from pretreatment to post-treatment years (2001–2016). The MB treatment was most effective at meeting the restoration objectives, as it resulted in increases in oak (ΔMB = 23,400 stems/ha) and pine (ΔMB = 900 stems/ha) stem density, importance value—calculated as the sum of relative cover and frequency—for graminoids (ΔMB = 26.0), and density of oak stems >50 cm in height (ΔMB = 7133 stems/ha). The B and M treatments were generally less effective, but nonetheless met a subset of the restoration objectives. The B treatment reduced ericaceous shrub cover (ΔB = −1.2%) and increased oak stems 10–50 cm in height (ΔB = 10,017 stems/ha), while the M treatment resulted in only modest increases of mesic hardwoods, specifically for yellow-poplar (ΔM = 200 stems/ha) and blackgum (ΔM = 200 stems/ha) as compared with other treatments, but significantly increased mountain laurel and rhododendron cover (ΔM = 10.0%). Overall, these fire and fire surrogate treatments had some success in restoring understory structure, but our findings suggest a slow response in understory herbaceous vegetation. View Full-Text
Keywords: fire surrogates; oaks; eastern white pine; mesic hardwoods; ericaceous shrubs; graminoids; forbs fire surrogates; oaks; eastern white pine; mesic hardwoods; ericaceous shrubs; graminoids; forbs
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Oakman, E.C.; Hagan, D.L.; Waldrop, T.A.; Barrett, K. Understory Vegetation Responses to 15 Years of Repeated Fuel Reduction Treatments in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA. Forests 2019, 10, 350.

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