Effects of 40 years of winter burning in longleaf pine on insects and other arthropods
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) once occupied 60-90 million acres but it is found on <3 million acres today. Much of the remaining longleaf habitat no longer contains the representative understory plant communities, so recent efforts are focusing on using fire to restore them. However, little is known about the long-term impacts of this strategy. A unique study on the Osceola national Forest in northern Florida allowed us to determine the long-term effects of winter prescribed burning applied at frequencies of 1, 2 or 4 years over a 40 year period on the abundance and diversity of insects and other arthropods. Plots burned annually had the lowest diversity while plots burned every 2 or 4 years were similar. All three treatments reduced arthropod diversity below that of unburned controls. Burning did not increase the number of rate species but arthropod community composition were affected. Over 100 species were affected by burning. Spiders as a group were the most severely affected but arthropods in 11 other orders were also impacted by winter burning. Some populations responded positively to burning while others were reduced. In many cases, 4 years was not enough time for arthropod populations reduced by burning to recover to the levels found on unburned controls. The results suggest that some areas should be left unburned to remain overall diversity on the landscape.
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