Non-destructive fuel volume measurements can estimate fine-scale biomass across surface fuel types in a frequently burned ecosystem
Measuring wildland fuels is at the core of fire science, but many established field methods are not useful for ecosystems characterized by complex surface vegetation. A recently developed submeter 3D method applied to southeastern U.S. longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) communities captures critical heterogeneity, but similar to any destructive sampling measurement, it relies on separate plots for calculating loading and consumption. In this study, we investigated how bulk density differed by 10-cm height increments among three dominant fuel types, tested predictions of consumption based on fuel type, height, and volume, and compared this with other field measurements. The bulk density changed with height for the herbaceous and woody litter fuels (p < 0.001), but live woody litter was consistent across heights (p > 0.05). Our models predicted mass well based on volume and height for herbaceous (RSE = 0.00911) and woody litter (RSE = 0.0123), while only volume was used for live woody (R2 = 0.44). These were used to estimate consumption based on our volume-mass predictions, linked pre- and post-fire plots by fuel type, and showed similar results for herbaceous and woody litter when compared to paired plots. This study illustrates an important non-destructive alternative to calculating mass and estimating fuel consumption across vertical volume distributions at fine scales.