Refining the oak-fire hypothesis for management of oak-dominated forests of the eastern United States
Prescribed fires are increasingly implemented throughout eastern deciduous forests to accomplish various management objectives, including maintenance of oak-dominated (Quercus spp.) forests. Despite a regional research-based understanding of prehistoric and historic fire regimes, a parallel understanding of contemporary fire use to preserve oak forests is only emerging, and with somewhat inconsistent results. For prescribed fires to be effective, they must positively influence oak regeneration at one or more critical life stages: pollination, flowering, seed set, germination, establishment, seedling development, and release into the canopy. We posit that a simplistic view of the relationship between fire and oak forests has led to a departure from an ecologically based management approach with prescribed fire. Here, we call for a refinement in our thinking to improve the match between management tools and objectives and provide some guidelines for thinking more ecologically about when and where to apply fire on the landscape to sustain oak-dominated forests.