How Fire Maintains Biological Diversity in Fire Dependent Forests
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