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Individual Highlight

How Fire Maintains Biological Diversity in Fire Dependent Forests

Photo of Thermal imaging systems developed by CFDS during prescribed fire, Eglin AFB 2016. Joseph J. O’Brien, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Thermal imaging systems developed by CFDS during prescribed fire, Eglin AFB 2016. Joseph J. O’Brien, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Some forests depend on frequent fire to maintain ecosystem structure and function. However, the mechanisms that drive this relationship are poorly known. Forest Service scientists have explored the mechanisms explaining the link between plant and insect diversity in longleaf pine forests through the innovative use of technology to test state of the art ecological theories. The results show a tight link between forest canopy structure and fire effects that can help guide both silviculture and fire management.

Principal Investigators(s) :
O'Brien, Joseph 
Research Location : Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1016


Wildland fire is paradoxical: in certain contexts it can be destructive and cause environmental degradation, while in others it creates the conditions that sustain ecosystem function. In many pine forests, frequent fire maintains high plant and animal diversity. In longleaf pine ecosystems, high fire frequency is strongly associated with the high plant diversity. Although this association is well-documented, the ecological mechanisms driving this relationship remain elusive. It is imperative that the mechanism be identified to guide sustainable forest management. The Center for Forest Disturbance Science, part of the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, received funding from U.S. Department of Defense to investigate the ecological mechanisms driving the connection between fire and biodiversity in longleaf pine ecosystems. Innovative ways to employ infrared technology are a cornerstone of the project. The scientists measured fire's radiant energy emission using fine scale longwave infrared thermal imagery. They found that the type of fuel can explain patterns of fire intensity, and also uncovered links between the fire and the post-fire recovery. This information can be incorporated into larger scale models of forest structure that could help inform silviculture and fire management decisions. The study is also developing cutting edge technology to both answer the scientific questions and to develop tools useful for forest managers.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Dr. Andrew Hudak, Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Dr. Lee Dyer, University of Nevada, Reno, U.S. Air Force Wildland Fire Center, Eglin Air Force Base

Program Areas