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Fire Ecology, 2015
Volume 11, Issue 3

Variability in Fire Prescriptions to Promote Wildlife Foods in the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem
Authors: Marcus A. Lashley, M. Colter Chitwood, Craig A. Harper, Christopher S. DePerno, and Christopher E. Moorman
Pages: 62-79
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.1103062

Prescribed fire is commonly used to restore and maintain the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) ecosystem (LLPE).  A key function of the LLPE is the provisioning of food for wildlife.  Despite the plethora of literature evaluating the effects of fire season and fire-return interval on plant community dynamics, little attention has been given to the response of wildlife foods to fire season or fire-return interval.  We measured the availability of key wildlife foods (fleshy fruit [i.e., seed containing a nutritious pericarp] and understory plant biomass) in upland pine forest following dormant-season (December–February) and growing-season (April–June) fires in a chronosequential design.  Also, we quantified the relative contributions of the upland hardwood and bottomland hardwood forest types, which often are intentionally suppressed in the LLPE.  In 2011 and 2012, we measured understory leafy biomass, biomass of forages selected by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimm.), and soft mast production chronosequentially in relation to years-since-fire, fire season, and vegetation type in the LLPE at Fort Bragg Military Installation, North Carolina, USA.  Understory leafy biomass increased in upland pine and hardwood forests as years-since-fire increased until two years post fire.  Selected forages decreased in upland pine forest and increased in upland hardwood forest as time-since-fire increased.  In upland pine forests burned during the growing season, 94 % of the fruit was detected two years after fire, 6 % one year after fire, and 0 % the same year as fire.  In June, fruit density was greatest in bottomland hardwood forest; in July, fruit density was greatest in dormant-season burned upland pine forest; in August, fruit density was greatest in upland hardwood forest; and in September, fruit density was greatest in upland hardwood and bottomland hardwood forest.  Overall summer fruit density (i.e., the sum of fruit density detected each month) was greatest in upland hardwood forest.  Understory leafy biomass and deer-selected forages were stable in bottomland hardwood forest because they were not burned, thereby providing a relatively high and stable availability from year to year.  Our data demonstrate the importance of diversity in fire season and frequency, and diversity in vegetation types to promote key wildlife foods in the LLPE.

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