Date of Award
Master of Science - Forestry
Dr. Christopher E. Comer
Dr. Roger W. Perry
Dr. Brian P. Oswald
Dr. Kathryn R. Kidd
The use of prescribed fire is integral to the restoration of open woodland habitats in the southeast, including shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) woodlands in the Ouachita Mountains. Mature pine habitats maintained with recurrent disturbances have an open understory with a rich floristic diversity that provides quality habitat for many wildlife species, including the endemic and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Fire has many potential benefits for wildlife; however, the effects of fire on several important woody soft-mast producing species are not fully understood. Soft-mast quantity and quality is a key component in determining year-round habitat quality for several wildlife species such as eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) and black bears (Ursus americanus). A greater diversity of fruit-producing species provides a range of available fruit throughout the year due to variations in fruiting phenology, which is particularly important for soft-mast dependent wildlife.
To better understand the implications of prescribed burning within the restored shortleaf pine woodlands, I examined soft-mast production at various time intervals after dormant season prescribed fire. I also determined the influence of different forest structural characteristics on soft-mast production. I inventoried 32 stands, representing four temporal periods after dormant season prescribed fires: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th growing seasons after a dormant season prescribed burn. I sampled stands by systemically establishing 40, 9 m2 semi-permanent plots along randomly selected transects. To capture the majority of soft-mast producing species, I conducted surveys three times each growing season (June, July, and August). In July (during peak growing season), I visually estimated soft-mast vegetation coverage in 1 m2 nested subplots (0.004 ha per stand), each placed within the larger soft-mast plots. At all plot locations, I measured forest structure characteristics, such as total basal area, canopy closure, aspect, and the number of previous burns. I quantified the total and individual species of soft-mast production and vegetation cover and compared these results by growing season. Lastly, I identified the plot, stand, and landscape level differences that had the greatest impact on soft-mast production.
The number of species producing soft-mast increased with time since burn. Shrub (American beautyberry [Callicarpa americana]) and vine (grapes [Vitis spp.] and bramble [Rubus spp.]) species dominated soft-mast production as these species can establish and produce within 2 to 3 years after disturbance. In total, I detected a total of 14 species producing fruit, of these species 7 produced over 97% of the total production: American beautyberry, blackberry (Rubus spp.), summer grape (V.aestivalis), muscadine grape (V. rotundifolia), dewberry (R.flagellaris), greenbrier (Smilax spp.), and sumac (Rhus spp.).I determined similar levels of soft-mast production in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th growing seasons post burn with production trends peaking in the 3rd season (18.2 kg ha-1). Basal area and number of growing seasons since burn had the greatest influences and predictive value of individual species soft-mast production. These results indicate that soft-mast production was not inhibited within the 3 to 5-year dormant season fire return interval. Continuing to burn on this rotation will maximize and prolong soft-mast production and promote species diversity.
Wood, Tamara B., "MONITORING SOFT-MAST PRODUCTION IN PINE WOODLAND RESTORATION AREAS ON THE OUACHITA NATIONAL FOREST" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 132.
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