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Northern Research Station
11 Campus Blvd., Suite 200
Newtown Square, PA 19073
(610) 557-4017
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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Forest Disturbance Processes /Climate Change and Events / Ailanthus and Prescribed Fire Study
Forest Disturbance Processes

Ailanthus and Prescribed Fire Study

Research Issue

[image:] Mature Ailanthus treeThroughout much of the central hardwoods region, the sustainability of oak forests is threatened by poor regeneration and ever-increasing abundances of shade-tolerant and/or fire-sensitive tree species.  In response, the use of prescribed fire on public lands has increased rapidly in the last decade.  While prescribed fire can favor oak regeneration, its use may also risk the invasion and expansion of non-native plant species.  Ailanthus altissima (tree-of-heaven) is a shade-intolerant tree that is widely distributed in the eastern U.S. and can be highly invasive.  It invades disturbed habitats through wind-dispersed seed and can persist and expand through root sprouts.  Ailanthus is present in many oak forest landscapes throughout the eastern US; however, little is known about the effects of fire on Ailanthus and its observed expansion in recently burned forests. Private, state and federal agencies wish to implement aggressive prescribed fire programs aimed at sustaining oak forests, while minimizing the expansion of non-native invasive species such as Ailanthus


 Our Research

[image:] Female tree with prominent seeds.This project seeks to provide a new cost-effective tool to map Ailanthus seed sources and to gain a better understanding of how Ailanthus responds to fire. We received a Joint Fire Science Program grant in 2008 to focus on the interaction of fire and non-native invasive species in East.  At Tar Hollow State Forest, managed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, located in southeastern Ohio, we’ve documented the rapid expansion of Ailanthus after thinning and burning treatments during the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study.  Our research focuses on the interactions of prescribed fire and Ailanthus populations.

To gain a better understanding of how the distribution and abundance of Ailanthus is related to recent fires, seed sources, and other landscape and stand characteristics, we will employ digital aerial sketch mapping technology to map the location of adult female trees (seed-producers).  A systematic grid of sample plots to will be used to model key factors related to the presence and abundance of Ailanthus across the landscape.  The direct effects of prescribed fire on Ailanthus populations will be modeled, with and without the pre-burn application of herbicide using four treatment combinations:  1) no herbicide, no fire; 2) herbicide, no fire; 3) no herbicide, fire; and 4) herbicide, fire.  If Ailanthus is favored by fire, we will also determine whether pre-burn herbicide application can be used to mitigate this effect, so that prescribed fire can be successful in the ultimate goal of improving oak regeneration. 

Expected Outcomes

Given the fact that prescribed fire is being used more extensively in the East, developing new knowledge about the effects of fire on Ailanthus populations and also tools to detect and mitigate its expansion in the landscape would clearly benefit forest management.  Results from the Central Appalachian Plateau site of the FFS study have already been used to help develop the Wayne National Forest Land and Resources Management Plan and the Ohio Division of Forestry prescribed fire program.

Research Results

An end-of-project joint workshop and tour highlighting the research and management recommendations to include USFS and ODNR will be used to aid science delivery.  A technical publication covering the management recommendations for Ailanthus and prescribed fire will be produced and targeted to forest managers.  Recommendations will be tested with the cooperation of the Wayne National Forest, ODNR Division of Forestry and The Nature Conservancy.  Proven recommendations will be incorporated into the SILVAH:OAK decision-support-system and training curricula.

Huebner, C. D., C. McQuattie, and J. Rebbeck.  2007. Mycorrhizal associations in Ailanthus altissima (Simaroubaceae) from forested and non-forested sites.  Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 134(1):  27-33.

Rebbeck, Joanne; Hutchinson, Todd F.; Long, Robert P. 2005. Invasive plants affecting the management of Ohio’s forests. In: Gottschalk, Kurt W., ed. Proceedings 16th U.S. Department of Agriculture interagency research forum on gypsy moth and other invasive species; 2005 January 18-21; Annapolis, MD. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-337. Newtown Square. PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station: 68-70.

Hutchinson, T.F., J. Rebbeck, and R. Long. 2004.  Abundant establishment of Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven) after restoration treatments in an upland oak forest.  Proceedings of the 14th Central Hardwood Forest Conference.  GTR-NE-316. p. 514.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Joanne Rebbeck, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Plant Physiologist

Research Partners

  • Todd Hutchinson, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Ecologist
  • Dan Yaussy, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Supervisory Research Forester
  • Louis Iverson, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Landscape Ecologist
  • Robert Boyles, Ohio Division of Forestry
  • Chad Sanders, Ohio Division of Forestry
  • Mike Bowden, Ohio Division of Forestry

Last Modified: 10/21/2010

About this Research Area

Science theme: Forest Disturbance Processes

Science Topic: Invasive Species

Featured Product

Huebner, C. D., C. McQuattie, and J. Rebbeck.  2007. Mycorrhizal associations in Ailanthus altissima (Simaroubaceae) from forested and non-forested sites.  Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 134(1):  27-33.

Featured Resource

[image:] Tumbnail images of first page of Ailanthus VerticilliumWilt Photoguide – Help Find It in Ohio.

Ailanthus VerticilliumWilt Photoguide – Help Find It in Ohio (2.2 mb pdf -- This document is in PDF format. You may obtain a free PDF reader from Adobe.)

JFSP Research Project

Prescribing fire in managed oak forest landscapes: interactions with the invasive tree Ailanthus altissima