Gradient analysis of an eastern sand savanna's woody vegetation, and its long-term responses to restored fire processes
AbstractLittle information is available comparing historic and modern sand savannas, and how remnants respond to restored fire. We compared short- and long-term effects of restored fire on the Tefft Savanna, a 197ha eastern sand savanna in northwest Indiana that had undergone three decades of fire protection. U.S. Public Land Survey data from Tefft in 1833 indicate black and white oak barrens, and pin oak savanna, with trees averaging 50stems/ha and 4m2/ha basal area. We used ordination and a digital elevation model to assess topographic distribution of tree species in 1986. In 1986, we also compared initial effects of high- and low-intensity dormant season fire on woody vegetation among nine blocks containing black oak, white oak, and pin oak stands. Twenty years later, we compared the same blocks, all of which had been burned three times per decade with low-intensity fires. In 1986, black oak, white oak and pin oak occurred across a gradient of decreasing elevation and slope. At that time, unburned black oak and white oak stands averaged >400stems/ha and about 10m2/ha basal area, and their smaller size classes contained non-oak woody vegetation that apparently had invaded with fire exclusion. After initial burns, black oak and white oak stands receiving high-intensity fire averaged <200stems/ha and had significantly lower oak canopy cover and basal area than unburned stands. Stands receiving low-intensity fire had intermediate oak canopy cover, with basal area similar to unburned stands. Pin oak stands were more fire-resistant, apparently because spring flooding often reduced fire effects. Density, cover and basal area of non-oak tree species were much lower than oaks, and were not reduced by initial burning. Repeated low-intensity burning over 20 years tended to maintain structure caused by initial fires. However, it reduced lower size class stem densities, promoted post-fire sprouting into the shrub layer, and allowed oak basal area to increase in larger size classes. Time since fire regulated shrub layer structure on a 4-year cycle. Density and cover of trees and shrubs returned to pre-burn conditions by the second and fourth growing seasons after fire, respectively, with non-oak tree species exceeding pre-burn cover and density by the fourth season. These results suggest that high-intensity fire is more important than repeated low-intensity burning in structuring and restoring eastern sand savanna, and that non-oak tree species, once established, may be resistant to low-intensity fire.
Volume, Issue, Page Number256, 8, 1560-1571