Impacts of prescribed fire frequency on coarse woody debris volume, decomposition and termite activity in the longleaf pine flatwoods of Florida
Abstract: Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystems have been reduced dramatically throughout their range. Prescribed burning is considered the best way to restore and maintain plant communities associated with longleaf pine, but little is known about its effects on coarse woody debris and associated organisms. We conducted a 5-year study on the Osceola National Forest in northeastern Florida to determine how dormant-season prescribed burns at different frequencies (annual, biennial, quadrennial or unburned) applied over a 40-year period affected coarse woody debris volume, decomposition and nitrogen content, and subterranean termite (Reticulitermes spp.) activity. Burn frequency had no effect on standing dead tree or log volumes. However, freshly cut longleaf pine logs placed in the plots for four years lost significantly less mass in annually burned plots than in unburned plots. The annual exponential decay coefficient estimate from all logs was 0.14 yr-1 (SE = 0.01), with the estimated times for 50 and 95% loss being 5 and 21.4 years, respectively. Termite presence was unaffected by frequent burning, suggesting they were able to survive the fires underground or within wood, and that winter burning did not deplete their food resources.