Prescribed fire is increasingly being viewed as a valuable tool for mitigating the ecological consequences of long-term fire suppression within fire-adapted forest ecosystems. While the use of burning treatments in northern temperate conifer forests has at times received considerable attention, the long-term (>10 years) effects on forest structure and development have not been quantified. We describe the persistence of prescribed fire effects in a mature red pine (Pinus resinosa Ait.)-dominated forest in northern Minnesota, USA over a ~50 year period, as well as the relative roles of fire season and frequency in affecting individual tree and stand-level structural responses. Burning treatments were applied on 0.4 ha compartments arranged in a randomized block design with four blocks. Burning treatments crossed fire season (dormant, summer) and frequency (annual, biennial, and periodic), and include an unburned control for comparison. Treatments were applied from 1960 to 1970, with no further management interventions occurring since. Data were collected periodically from 1960 to 2014. Forest structural development trajectories were significantly altered by the application of fire treatments. Our results indicate that the effects of burning treatments on structural dynamics are not ephemeral, but rather alter stand development trajectories in the long-term. Further, burning altered shrub layer dynamics and community composition both in the short- and long-term. Both season and frequency of burning were important drivers of the response of the understory, with frequent summer season burns having the largest impact, including the greatest control of hazel brush.The persistent nature of these effects highlights their potential as a tool for long-lasting structural alterations in treated stands without compromising overstory tree growth and vigor. The lack of red pine recruitment throughout the duration of the study suggests that prescribed fire alone cannot regenerate this species, and that further alteration to overstory and seedbed conditions would be needed to secure new cohorts of this species.
University of Minnesota M.S. thesis. May 2016. Major: Natural Resources Science and Management. Advisors: Anthony D'Amato, Christel Kern. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 90 pages.
Long-term effects of prescribed fire on vegetation structure, dynamics, and tree growth in red pine (Pinus resinosa Ait.) forests in north central Minnesota..
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