Assessing Postfire Vegetative Changes and Implications for Management in a Northeast Florida Coastal Strand Ecosystem


Barbara I. Blonder

Additional Authors:

John M. Wooldridge, Mary B. Garrard,



Disturbance, fire exclusion, pyrophytic, return interval, succession.

ABSTRACT Coastal ecosystems face numerous well-documented threats that pose significant risk of reduction in the ability of these ecosystems to persevere. Although coastal disturbance processes related to maritime exposure are relatively well known, the past and potential impacts of fire in these ecosystems have not been well studied. Because fire plays such an important role in so many other southeastern ecosystems, and because the areal extent of coastal strand ecosystems has been much reduced, it is important to resolve the role of fire for management of these threatened communities. In 2014, prescribed fire management was undertaken in a protected and relatively intact, 55-ha remnant section of coastal strand in the Guana Tolomato National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean in northeast Florida, USA. The fire history for this area was unknown. We compared burned samples to unburned samples to test whether there were differences in patterns of vegetative response to this fire management action. In backdune sites, we found significant dissimilarities in plant community biodiversity indicators between burned and unburned samples, whereas vegetative cover changed significantly in both foredune and backdune sites. We include a review of successional patterns and fire effects for similar sites in the region for comparison, which provisionally suggests a 4–20-yr fire return interval. We conclude that fire management for the backdune component of the coastal strand is an important strategy for this ecosystem to avert succession to maritime hammock.