Application of fire

Prescribed fire is an important and useful land management tool and is increasingly being used for a variety of management objectives. Successfully reaching management objectives using fire requires understanding of fire behavior, fire effects, and operational considerations during application. We study the several aspects of fire ecology in central and southeastern hardwood and conifer ecosystems, including upland oak woodlands, shortleaf pine and oak mixtures, and longleaf pine ecosystems. Results from these studies can be used to create or refine prescribed burning prescriptions.

Fuel characteristics, such as fuel type, moisture levels, fuel loading, and the chemical composition, contribute to fire behavior. For example, a prescribed burn in an oak-hickory forest will burn differently than that in a longleaf pine savanna. 

We are interested in linking the fuel characteristics with the resulting fire behavior and consequential effects on vegetation. Fuel ecology has emerged as an important contributor to factor in ecosystem responses, from plant community assembly to tree mortality.

Fuels effects on fire

Fire effects on vegetation

Wildland fire has complex effects on the vegetation within natural ecosystems. Seed germination and success may be inhibited or promoted due to fire effects. Species differ in their ability to resist damage from fire, with some species gaining competitive advantage and other species declining.

 

Understanding fire's effects on the suite of plant species within ecosystems allows for the refinement of prescribed burning to deliberately favor species of interest or desirable characteristics of the plant communities. 

We apply these concepts to objectives related to tree regeneration, ecological restoration, and maintaining or enhancing biological diversity.

Vegetation effects on fuels

We study factors affecting fuel dynamics within forests and woodlands throughout the eastern United States. The fuels for wildland fire are primarily derived from the vegetation present in the ecosystem, both living and dead. 

Different ecosystems support different plant species and consequently different fuel types and loads. Natural disturbances, such as wind events or insect damage, can further affect the distribution of live and dead fuels, and silvicultural practices such as timber harvest also change forest fuel properties.

Through time, these fuels change through decomposition, growth, and mortality, with important implications for fire behavior and subsequent ecological response.