Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Restoration: The Role of Fire
Longleaf pine (Pinus pulustris Mill.) ecosystems once occupied over 36 million hectares in the southeastern United States lower coastal plain. These fire-dependent ecosystems dominated a wide range of coastal plain sites, including dry uplands and low, wet flatlands. Today, less than 1.3 million hectares remain, but these ecosystems represent significant components of the Region's cultural heritage, ecological diversity, timber resources, and present essential habitat for many animal and plant communities. Fire was an essential component of the original longleaf pine ecosystems. The landscapes were characterized by open stands of mature iongleaf pine with a savanna-like understory that were biologically diverse. Recent improvements in the technology to artificially regenerate longleaf pine has stimulated interest in restoring longleaf pine on many sites. Long-term studies show that the frequent use of fire hastens initiation of height growth, reduces undesirable competing vegetation, and stimulates growth and development of the rich understory. So, fire is an important element in establishing the species and is critical to achieve and maintain the biologically diverse understory that is characteristic of the ecosystem.