A Roadmap to Recovery for Degraded Longleaf Pine Plant Communities
Longleaf pine ecosystems in the southeastern United States have the potential for recovery. Forest Service and university researchers joined forces to develop a roadmap for the recovery of degraded longleaf pine plant communities. The team designed a study comparing various degraded conditions with the best ecological reference sites available and used this information to understand how different factors are associated with current site conditions. The sites varied according to land use history (previous cultivation or none), fire frequency, and canopy density. The team also installed a large field experiment to test how various ecological processes (e.g., seed dispersal, herbivory by large and small mammals) might contribute to recovery. The work is being conducted on three ecologically distinct landscapes within the longleaf pine range to provide information about how widely the results can be applied. The team developed a model that shows the effects of previous land use, fire frequency, and canopy density on plant community degradation. Interestingly, all suspected degradation factors were important, but the effects varied among the study locations. The work has also yielded new insights into the multi-factor causes of species diversity in these ecosystems known for very high levels of species richness. The multi-site study is one of a kind in the study of longleaf pine ecosystem restoration. Results are expected to broaden our understanding of ecosystem degradation, which in turn will be used to develop more robust ecological restoration protocols.
Forest Service Partners