Modeling the effects of fire on the long-term dynamics and restoration of yellow pine and oak forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains
We used LANDIS, a model of forest disturbance and succession, to simulate successional dynamics of forests in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The simulated environments are based on the Great Smoky Mountains landscapes studied by Whittaker. We focused on the consequences of two contrasting disturbance regimes—fire exclusion versus frequent burning—for the Yellow pine (Pinus L., subgenus Diploxylon Koehne) and oak (Quercus L.) forests that occupy dry mountain slopes and ridgetops. These ecosystems are a conservation priority, and declines in their abundance have stimulated considerable interest in the use of fire for ecosystem restoration. Under fire exclusion, the abundance of Yellow pines is projected to decrease, even on the driest sites (ridgetops, south- and west-facing slopes). Hardwoods and White pine (P. strobus L.) replace the Yellow pines. In contrast, frequent burning promotes high levels of Table Mountain pine (P. pungens Lamb.) and Pitch pine (P. rigida Mill.) on the driest sites and reduces the abundance of less fire-tolerant species. Our simulations also imply that fire maintains open woodland conditions, rather than closed-canopy forest. For oaks, fire exclusion is beneficial on the driest sites because it permits oaks to replace the pines. On moister sites (north- and east-facing slopes), however, fire exclusion leads to a diverse mix of oaks and other species, whereas frequent burning favors Chestnut oak (Q. montana Willd.) and White oak (Q. alba L.) dominance. Our results suggest that reintroducing fire may help restore decadent pine and oak stands in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
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