Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Southeastern coastal plain pine savannas lack direct evidence of past fire regimes. As a result, uncertainty exists regarding the range of variation in frequency and seasonal timing of past fire regimes and the relative importance of anthropogenic and lightning-ignited fires. Characterization of past fire regimes is needed for effective restoration and management of these high-biodiversity ecosystems. I used dendrochronologically dated fire scars from stumps of old growth longleaf pines in a large coastal, mainland pine savanna and from dead slash pines on a small, coastal barrier island in north Florida to explore past fire regimes. In the mainland savanna, 71 different fires occurred from 1592-1883, based on a composite record of 109 fire scars from six fire-scarred trees. Almost all (95%) scars occurred during the middle growing season. Only three fires, all in the 1800s after European settlement of the local area, occurred during the dormant season. There was a 2-3 year fire return interval between 1679 and 1868. Variability in fire return intervals was low, with 92% of all fires occurring at < 5 yr intervals. On the barrier island 159 fire scars occurred in 21 separate years from 1864-2000, based on a record of 52 pines scarred during turpentine operations. Two periods of no fire scars corresponded to times of active pine resin extraction on the island (1911-1918, 1948-1958). Mean fire return intervals averaged four years from 1864-1910 and 1919-1947. A longer nine-year fire return interval occurred from 1959-2000. Most (86%) fires recorded in scars occurred during the growing season. The very high frequencies of growing season fires recorded in annual rings of these trees indicate that fire regimes were primarily driven by synoptic climatic conditions rather than by cultural burning practices. Both sites recorded frequent, growing season fires, suggesting that lightning fires were occurring frequently both before and after settlement despite differences in size and landscape context. This direct evidence of fire history in southeastern pine savannas can resolve some outstanding questions regarding ecological fire management. Fire managers now have direct evidence that supports frequent, growing season fires in pine savanna.
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Huffman, Jean Marie, "Historical fire regimes in southeasern pine savannas" (2006). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 1364.