Fuel and litter characteristics in fire-excluded and restored northern Mississippi oak-hickory woodlandsThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
Oak-hickory communities are a widespread component of the landscape in the southeastern United States, often providing critical habitat and containing high plant species richness. With changing land use and fire exclusion, however, species composition has shifted in many areas to off-site species that are more fire-sensitive. These fire-sensitive species often create a closed-canopy structure (termed “mesophication”) and composition that changes fire dynamics and complicates restoration efforts. One important, but understudied, aspect of mesophication is the potential change in fuelbed characteristics that affect fire behavior and future regeneration environments. This study combines fire exclusion controls with canopy thinning/prescribed burning treatments at two oak-hickory woodland sites in northwest Mississippi in order to examine how fuels change with mesophication and restoration efforts. We sampled downed woody fuels and duff depths using planar intercepts and also collected tree litter in destructively sampled quadrats. Most fuels characteristics (1-, 10-, 1000-hour woody fuel loading and fuelbed depth) did not differ between controls and treatments, however at one site the treatment had significantly lower duff depth and higher 100- hour fuel loading. In both restoration treatments, litter composition shifted towards a greater composition of flammable red oak species. Overall, restoration treatments at these sites are resulting in the functional restoration of flammable oak-hickory woodlands.