Fire effects on resprouting of shrubs in headwaters of southeastern longleaf pine savannas

TitleFire effects on resprouting of shrubs in headwaters of southeastern longleaf pine savannas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsDrewa P.B., Platt W.J., Moser E.B.
Date PublishedJuly 1, 2002
ARIS Log Number131599
Keywordsbogs; downslope seepages; fire frequency; fire season; fire temperature; Florida; Louisiana; rhizomes; root crowns; shrubs; upslope savannas

Woody plants in fire-frequented ecosystems commonly resprout from underground organs after fires. Responses to variation in characteristics of fire regimes may be a function of plant physiological status or fire intensity. Although these hypotheses have been explored for trees in southeastern longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) savannas, responses of other life forms and stages have not been studied. We examined effects of fire season and frequency, geography, habitat, and underground organ morphology on resprouting of shrubs. In 1994, we located replicated sites, each containing two habitats, upslope savannas and downslope seepages, in Louisiana and Florida. Each site, which contained quadrats located along transects within a 30 × 60 m plot, was burned either during the dormant or growing season and then reburned similarly two years later. Maximum fire temperatures were measured, and densities of shrub stems were censused in quadrats before and after fires. Shrubs collectively resprouted more following dormant than growing-season fires, regardless of habitat or geographic region. After repeated dormant-season fires, collective densities in seepages of both regions and densities of root-crown-bearing shrubs in Florida seepages were greater than those initially and after repeated growing-season fires. Shrub responses were generally unrelated to fire temperatures, supporting the hypothesis that resprouting of shrubs may be more dependent on their physiological status at the time of fires. There was, nonetheless, an inverse relationship between collective and root-crown-bearing shrub densities following repeated fires and maximum fire temperatures in Florida seepages. Anthropogenic dormant-season fires over many decades may have resulted in increases in shrub densities in longleaf pine savannas, especially seepages. Repeated growing-season fires, however, neither increased nor reduced densities of established shrubs. Long-term shifts in characteristics of fire regimes, even in fire-frequented habitats, may produce effects that are not reversible in the short term (<10 yr) by simply reintroducing prescribed fires that resemble those that occurred naturally during the growing season.