Oak, fire, and global change in the eastern USA: what might the future hold?
The pace of environmental and socioeconomic change over the past 100 years has been rapid. Changes in fire regimes, climate, and land use have shaped the structure and function of most forest ecosystems, including oak (Quercus spp. L.) forests in the eastern United States.New stressors such as air pollution and invasive species have contributed to and interacted with climate and fire to alter current forest conditions. While changing fire regimes have altered species composition of the current forest, oak regeneration is constrained by many factors that may affect future forests. Over the remainder of the twenty-first century, an accelerating pace of climate and socioeconomic changes will influence the future range of variation in eastern oakforests. Some of these impacts will be direct, such as changes in tree growth rates, while other impacts will be indirect, such as new disturbance regimes. While it is likely that fire will be important in shaping oak forests in the twenty- first century, it is less clear exactly what that role will be. For example, it is uncertain whether our current scientific knowledge on the use of prescribed fire in oak forests will be applicable under novel climate and changing socioeconomic conditions. We propose that the combination of climate change, wildfire, and other disturbances will create stand conditions that favor oaks with or without management. However, management intervention (e.g., prescribed fire, thinning, or a combination) could reduce wildfire hazard, particularly in the wildland-urban interface, and create more desirable stand conditions that are resilient to future stressors such as changing precipitation patterns and warmer temperatures.