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Fire and the herbaceous layer of eastern oak forests

Year Published

2006

Publication

In: Dickinson, Matthew B., ed. 2006. Fire in eastern oak forests: delivering science to land managers, proceedings of a conference; 2005 November 15-17; Columbus, OH. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-1. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 136-149.

Abstract

Across oak forest landscapes, the herbaceous layer supports the great majority of plant diversity. As the use of prescribed fire increases, it is important to better understand its effects on biodiversity. This paper reviews the current ?state of the knowledge? regarding fire effects on herbaceous layer vegetation. In typical dormant-season fires, direct heating effects are minimal on most herbaceous plants (forbs, grasses, sedges). Although woody plants are topkilled, nearly all resprout. Fire indirectly affects the herb layer by altering the forest floor and soil environments. The consumption of leaf litter during fire stimulates germination for a number of seedbanking species. Three case studies (oak forests in Missouri and Ohio, oak barrens in Illinois) of herb-layer response to fire are reviewed. These and other studies show that species richness and the cover of herbaceous plants usually increase after fire. Fire can have unique effects on herbaceous communities that are not realized with mechanical treatments (e.g., partial harvesting) alone. Although prescribed fire is commonly applied to maintain open-structured habitats that often contain rare plants, it also could be a useful management tool for sustaining and enhancing rare plant populations in upland oak forests. What is lacking most from our knowledge of how fire regimes affect the herbaceous layer of oak forests is: 1) the longterm effects of fire suppression, and 2) the long-term effects of periodic application of prescribed fire.

Citation

Hutchinson, Todd 2006. Fire and the herbaceous layer of eastern oak forests. In: Dickinson, Matthew B., ed. 2006. Fire in eastern oak forests: delivering science to land managers, proceedings of a conference; 2005 November 15-17; Columbus, OH. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-1. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 136-149.
Last updated on: November 14, 2006

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