Updating models for restoration and management of fiery ecosystems
© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Scientific models that guide restoration/management protocols should be reviewed periodically as new data become available. We examine ecological concepts used to guide restoration of pine savannas and woodlands, historically prominent but now rare habitats in the southern North American Coastal Plain. For many decades, pine savanna management has been guided predominantly by a biome-centric succession model. Pine savannas have been considered early-successional communities that, in the absence of fire, transition rapidly toward closed-canopy hardwood forests. Recurrent fires have been viewed as exogenous disturbances that maintain savanna ecosystems as a sub-climax, blocking succession to an equilibrium steady state (closed-canopy forests). Over recent decades, a vegetation-fire feedback model has emerged in which pine savannas are conceptualized as persistent, non-equilibrium communities maintained by endogenous, co-evolutionary vegetation-fire feedbacks. Endemic plant species are resistant to fires and specialized for post-fire conditions generated by frequent lightning fires, primarily within a distinct fire season. These species produce pyrogenic fine fuels that are easily ignited. The resulting fire regimes, entrained by these vegetation-fire feedbacks, are predicted to result in persistent pine savannas. Local variation over space and time in evolutionary feedback mechanisms between pyrogenic vegetation and fire regimes produces heterogeneous landscapes. Disturbances of these feedbacks, such as human fire suppression, are postulated to result in rapid transition to communities lacking feedback elements, such as closed-canopy forest and those without pyrogenic species. Succession-based management focuses on reversing the transition to forest, primarily by removing hardwoods and reintroducing fire as a disturbance. However, we advocate restoration and management approaches that target reinstitution of functional vegetation-fire feedbacks. Such approaches should favor native pyrogenic plant species and reinstitute fire regimes that mimic historical, evolutionarily derived fire regimes. Vegetation-fire feedback concepts should be useful in addressing resistance and resilience of fiery ecosystems worldwide to inherent changes in feedback mechanisms, constituting a framework useful in addressing global management challenges.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Forest Ecology and Management
Fill, J., Platt, W., Welch, S., Waldron, J., & Mousseau, T. (2015). Updating models for restoration and management of fiery ecosystems. Forest Ecology and Management, 356, 54-63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2015.07.021