USDA Forest Service researchers and partners studied white oak (Quercus alba) seedlings and saplings in mixed oak-pine stands on the William B. Bankhead National Forest in northcentral Alabama. Stands were subjected to three thinning levels (heavy, light, and a no thin control) and three fire frequencies (dormant season burns of none, one, or three fires) in a factorial design.
Regardless of thinning treatment, three prescribed burns increased the density of white oak. Thinning with one fire resulted in the highest densities of white oak saplings. Thinned and burned stands had larger white oak seedling sprouts than those thinned with no burns. Size matters, as red maple seedlings and saplings were the main competitor in all treatments. Larger white oak sprouts and saplings are better positioned to compete with red maple, but additional tending treatments that target red maple demise are suggested to facilitate white oak recruitment into dominant canopy positions. Risks to residual tree value due to fire damage may be offset by gains in oak regeneration success.
This research on oak regeneration aims to provide managers with tools to maintain this vital component of U.S. forests. This work provides an excellent example of co-producing science with National Forest partners, and this research will continue, with partners from Alabama A&M University, Tennessee State University, University of Alabama and Mississippi State University.