Forest Development 44 Years after Fire Exclusion in Formerly Annually Burned Oldfield Pine Woodland, Florida


Andre F. Clewell

Additional Authors:


Sept 2014


Coppice fire trap, mesophication, NB66, novel ecosystem, tall timbers, upland pine-oak fire fire ecology fire supression

Young mixed hardwood forest communities that colonized abandoned croplands during the late 19th century in northern Florida were typically winter burned annually after pine saplings could survive fire. Hardwood trees persisted as coppice that grew from root crowns within grassy undergrowth. This plant community changed little thereafter, except for the continued growth of pine trees. An 8.64-ha tract of this community was inventoried in 1966, from which fire was permanently excluded thereafter. This tract, called NB66, was reinventoried in 2010 to document maturation of the plant community and to identify the contributing causes that controlled ecological development. Hardwood coppice that was released from fire grew to form a nearly continuous canopy averaging 19.7 m high after 44 years. Many older pines died and disintegrated without causing canopy gaps. Prior to 19th century plantation agriculture, the original vegetation consisted of shortleaf pine-oak-hickory (SPOH) woodland, which intergraded with longleaf pine savanna on sandier soils. These species occur at NB66 but the forest remains dominated by native offsite species, which are aggressively reproducing. These offsite species formerly occurred in less elevated landscape positions in association with magnolia-beech and bottomland hardwood forests. Frequently burned old-field pineland adjacent to NB66 has remained stable indicating that no factors other than fire exclusion caused release of hardwoods from their ‘‘fire trap.’’ There was no trend toward recovery of the original SPOH community, and forest development is postulated on the basis of mesophication processes. Recruitment of new species—both woody and herbaceous—since 1966 was modest; most remain uncommon.