Understory fuel variation at the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge: a description of chemical and physical propertiesThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
Upland forest in the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge is characterized by a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) canopy with a variable understory and ground-layer species composition. The system was historically maintained by fire and has been managed with prescribed fire in recent decades. A management goal is to reduce turkey oak (Quercus laevis) stem density and maintain the natural biodiversity in the understory. The patchy understory of this forest type creates several fuel complexes on a small within-stand scale. We measured chemical content (energy and ash) of five common species, identified three fuel complexes based on dominant vegetation and fuels [longleaf pine litter, turkey oak, and wiregrass (Aristida stricta)], and described the fuels present in each fuel complex. Longleaf pine litter contained the highest energy (21,716 J/g) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) the lowest (19,202 J/g). Among the fuel complexes, turkey oak-dominated sites had the highest potential fuel weight (12.4 tons/ha) and wiregrass-dominated sites the lowest (6.9 tons/ha). Both turkey oak- and wiregrass-dominated sites had a more aerated fuel bed than longleaf pine litter-dominated sites. We concluded that the plant community structure creates different fuel conditions, suggesting that fires will burn heterogeneously, creating spatial diversity in postfire conditions.