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Volume 12 Issue 2   August 2016
Editorial Leadership Change for  
Fire Ecology

Thank you from the Association for Fire Ecology

AFE would like to extend a huge  Thank You and Farewell to Jim Agee, the outgoing Editor of  Fire Ecology , for his service and dedication to the Fire Ecology journal. Jim served as the Managing Editor for the last 5 years. Under Jim's leadership, the journal has gained recognition in the world's leading bibliographic databases, its impact factor and rankings has increased, and the number of both domestic and international article submissions and quality has grown steadily.

The journal's reputation as a high-quality outlet for fire research is now firmly cemented and poised to grow even more.  This volunteer position requires an enormous about of time, diligence, and dedication, all of which Jim generously invested. We wish Jim well in his future endeavors , and we are very grateful to him for all of his many contributions to the growth of the Fire Ecology Journal. 

We are excited to welcome Bob Keane as our new interim Managing Editor for Fire Ecology. Please address all email to him at: editor@fireecology.net.


Message from the Outgoing Editor

This year, with the recent completion of  Fire Ecology issue 12(2), I have completed five years as your Editor.  Being Editor of  Fire Ecology has been a rewarding and learning experience for me.  I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the AFE staff, associate editors, authors, and our terrific Technical Editor, Laurie Burk.  We have all worked to ensure that the journal meets the highest standards possible.  

In the Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge (proprietary), we are ranked 112 out of 149 "Ecology" journals, so roughly in the top two-thirds.   In "Forestry" we are ranked 20th out of 66, so we're in the top third.  In the Scimago (open access ranking sponsored by Scopus) "Forestry" and "Environmental Science" journals, we remain in the top quartile, and in the top half of "Ecology" journals.  So, although we have a ways to go, this is an excellent position for  Fire Ecology . It is a tribute to the quality of papers published in the journal, and a nod to the excellence of our editorial staff. 

I wish continued success for the journal, and hope that you will give Bob Keane the support you have provided me during my time as Editor. 

Jim Agee
Letter From the Editor

By Jim Agee, Managing Editor 

We're pleased to announce that  Fire Ecology 12(2) is now available for viewing and downloading on the journal website: fireecologyjournal.org .  This is a special issue devoted to the role of fire in eastern USA oak forests.  It opens with an introduction to the issue by Varner and several other authors of papers in the issue; these papers were presented in the Fifth Fire in Eastern Oak Forests conference in 2015.  Following the introduction is a classic article by Buell and others originally published in the
Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club in 1954.  It is prefaced by an introduction to the article by Abrams, who notes that the one 323-year-old tree contained significant fire history information and was the first estimate of pre-European fire history for mid-Atlantic oak forests.  Buell and his co-authors proposed that oak and hickory establishment was related to recurring fire associated with drought and burning by Native Americans, and that old-growth forests should be preserved for ecological purposes.
Ford and others investigated the short-term effects of prescribed fire on the northern long-eared bat, a cavity nesting species in oak-dominated Appalachian and Central Hardwoods forest regions.  After two prescribed fires at the Fernow Experimental Forest, they found suitable black locust trees (preferred by the bats) were slightly reduced but suitable red maple trees increased.  They conclude that the short-term effects of prescribed fire on bat habitat are slightly to moderately positive.
Waldrop and others studied the effect of prescribed fire, mechanical treatment, and combinations of both on fuel reduction, oak regeneration, and restoration to open woodland conditions in the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Stand structure was changed by each treatment but restoration to an open woodland was not achieved by any.  Oak reproduction was increased by all treatments, and the burn and combination treatments were most effective at reducing potential fire severity.  Additional burning will be required to meet these management objectives: more frequent fires, across more seasons, and together with other treatments.
Varner and others synthesized evidence for eight southeastern US oak species from ecophysiological measurements, laboratory burning and drying experiments, and field measurements to determine the suites of functional traits that reflect fire adaptive strategies.  The oaks fell into one of three categories: 1) pyrophytic species that produce highly flammable leaf litter, accrue thick bark rapidly, close wounds rapidly, and grow slowly; 2) mesophytic species that produce low flammability litter, have thin bark, and are fast growing; and 3) fire-avoider species with a mixture of traits from the two extremes.  This synthesis clarifies the relative pyrophily of southeastern oaks and suggests how suites of fire-related traits influence fire regimes and species habitat preferences.
Stambaugh and others analyzed multi-century fire scar records from two historically post oak woodland landscapes.  Despite large differences in fire environment conditions, study sites (~1 km2) burned frequently (mean fire interval (MFI) ≤ 10 years) before Euro-American settlement (pre-EAS), with sites in Tennessee showing higher overall fire frequency than sites in Oklahoma.  Pre-EAS MFIs decreased exponentially with increasing spatial extent from individual trees (~1 m2) to landscapes (~100 km2), which may help to explain how historical observations of annual burning could be recorded in woodlands, when experimental studies suggest this is too frequent for tree recruitment. 
Schweitzer and others evaluated the effect of thinning and prescribed fire on conversion of pine (loblolly pine and Virginia pine) plantations to more natural hardwood-pine mixedwoods, an important restoration goal on federally owned lands on the southern Cumberland Plateau in northcentral Alabama.  The pine plantations have been relatively unmanaged since initiation, and thus include a diversity of hardwoods.  Treatments included combinations of no thin, light thin, and heavy thin, mixed with no burning, one burn, or three burns in nine years.  Heavy thins reduced overstory density the most, and frequent fire had the greatest impact on midstory structure and regeneration.  There were more oak and red maple seedling sprouts following frequent burning.  Although the treatments have accelerated the transition toward hardwood-pine mixedwoods, the fate of oak and which hardwood species will be dominant in the future remains uncertain.
Brewer presents the results of an experiment examining effects of tornado-generated canopy openings and biennial spring burning on groundcover vegetation at an oak-pine forest in north Mississippi.  After four years of monitoring, species richness and abundance of species indicative of fire-maintained open habitats were greater at sites with canopy damage than at sites with undamaged canopies, especially in years without drought.  Annual ruderals increased initially following canopy damage but then decreased.  Few forest indicator species changed in abundance, and the few that did increased.  Results suggest that fire restoration treatments must include both the creation of canopy openings and fire to effectively increase the diversity and distinctiveness of groundcover vegetation in mixed oak-pine forests.
Harper and others synthesize the effects of fire on hardwood forest communities and associated wildlife, and how fire should be used to achieve management goals.  Canopy reduction through silvicultural treatment has enabled managers to use fire more effectively.  In general, a fire-return interval of 2 yr to 7 yr benefits a wide variety of wildlife species, providing a diverse structure in the understory, increased browse or forage and soft mast, and cavity or snag creation.  Early growing-season fire may pose increased risk for some species, but negative population-level effects are unlikely unless the burned area is relatively large and early growing-season fire is used continually.  There is no evidence that fire is leading to population declines for any species, including Endangered Species Act-listed bat species.  Similarly, concern over woodland salamanders is alleviated when fire is not forced into mesic, high site index environments where salamanders are most common.  They conclude with prescriptive burning concepts for various wildlife species and guilds in the Central Hardwoods and Appalachians.
Vose and Elliott note that an accelerating pace of climate and socioeconomic changes will influence the future range of variation in eastern oak forests.  Some of these impacts will be direct, such as changes in tree growth rates, while other impacts will be indirect, such as new disturbance regimes.  While it is likely that fire will be important in shaping oak forests in the twenty-first century, it is less clear exactly what that role will be, as current scientific knowledge of prescribed fire may not be applicable under novel climate and changing socioeconomic conditions.  They propose that the combination of climate change, wildfire, and other disturbances will create stand conditions that favor oaks with or without management.  However, management intervention (e.g., prescribed fire, thinning, or a combination) could reduce wildfire hazard, particularly in the wildland-urban interface, and create more desirable stand conditions that are resilient to future stressors such as changing precipitation patterns and warmer temperatures.
About the Cover


Fire has played a dominant role in many eastern North American oak (Quercus spp. L.) ecosystems. This special issue is focused on the ecology and management of fire in Eastern oak forests. Fire spreads across a remnant Black Belt prairie into a post oak-blackjack oak (Q. stellata-Q. marilandica) savanna at Pulliam Prairie in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, USA. Photo credit: J. Morgan Varner.
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Association for Fire Ecology

Introduction

Fire in Eastern North American Oak Ecosystems: Filling the Gaps
This special issue of Fire Ecology is focused on the fire ecology of eastern USA oak (Quercus L.) forests, woodlands, and savannas.  The papers were presented as part of the Fifth Fire in Eastern Oak Forests Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, in 2015.  The topic of fire in Eastern oak ecosystems is one that has received insufficient interest from the broader fire ecology community.

Classic Article

Sowing the Seeds of Fire and Oak in the Eastern US: a Tribute to Buell et al. 1954
Author:  Marc D. Abrams

A 323-year-old white oak (Quercus alba L.) tree in Mettler's Woods in central New Jersey, USA, was the subject of the Buell et al. 1954 paper. They identified six fire scars formed between 1641 and 1711, with a mean fire return interval of 8.6 years over this period. The fires were primarily associated with narrow rings, which are indicative of drought years.

Research Articles

Northern Long-Eared Bat Day-Roosting and Prescribed Fire in the Central Appalachians, USA
The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis Trovessart) is a cavity-roosting species that forages in cluttered upland and riparian forests throughout the oak-dominated Appalachian and Central Hardwoods regions. Common prior to white-nose syndrome, the population of this bat species has declined to functional extirpation in some regions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including portions of the central Appalachians.

Repeated Application of Fuel Reduction Treatments in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA: Implications for Achieving Management Goals

Fire and resource managers of the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA, have many questions about the use of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to meet various land management objectives.  Three common objectives include restoration to an open woodland, oak regeneration, and fuel reduction.  This paper provides information about reaching each of these three management objectives by using prescribed burning (B), mechanical fuel reduction (M), and a combination of both fire and mechanical treatment (MB).

Suites of Fire-Adapted Traits of Oaks in the Southeastern USA: Multiple Strategies for Persistence
Fire is integral to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems of the southeastern USA and is a strong selective force on plant species.  Among woody plants, oak species (Quercus spp. L) have diverse life history traits that appear to reflect their evolution in this fire-prone region.  Oaks also occur across wide gradients of fire frequency and intensity, from annually burned savannas to fire-protected forests.

Scale Dependence of Oak Woodland Historical Fire Intervals: Contrasting The Barrens of Tennessee and Cross Timbers of Oklahoma, USA
Characterization of scale dependence of fire intervals could inform interpretations of fire history and improve fire prescriptions that aim to mimic historical fire regime conditions. We quantified the temporal variability in fire regimes and described the spatial dependence of fire intervals through the analysis of multi-century fire scar records (8 study sites, 332 trees, 843 fire scars) derived from two historically post oak (Quercus stellata Wangenh.) woodland landscapes.

Hardwood-Pine Mixedwoods Stand Dynamics following Thinning and Prescribed Burning
Restoration of hardwood-pine (Pinus L.) mixedwoods is an important management goal in many pine plantations in the southern Cumberland Plateau in north-central Alabama, USA.  Pine plantations have been relatively unmanaged since initiation, and thus include a diversity of hardwoods developing in the understory.  These unmanaged pine plantations have become increasingly vulnerable to insects, and management activities were initiated to facilitate transition towards hardwood-pine mixedwoods.

Natural Canopy Damage and the Ecological Restoration of Fire-Indicative Groundcover Vegetation in an Oak-Pine Forest
Author:  J. Stephen Brewer
 
An important goal of restoring fire to upland oak-dominated communities that have experienced fire exclusion is restoring groundcover plant species diversity and composition indicative of fire-maintained habitats. Several studies have shown that fire alone, however, may not be sufficient to accomplish this goal. Furthermore, treatment-driven declines in rare forest specialists could negate the benefits of ecological restoration in these ecosystems.

Review Article

Fire Effects on Wildlife in the Central Hardwoods and Appalachian Regions, USA
 
Fire is being prescribed and used increasingly to promote ecosystem restoration (e.g., oak woodlands and savannas) and to manage wildlife habitat in the Central Hardwoods and Appalachian regions, USA. However, questions persist as to how fire affects hardwood forest communities and associated wildlife, and how fire should be used to achieve management goals. We provide an up-to-date review of fire effects on various wildlife species and their habitat in the Central Hardwoods and Appalachians.

Forum:
Issues, Management, Policy, & Opinions

Oak, Fire, and Global Change in the Eastern USA: What Might the Future Hold?
Authors:  James M. Vose  and  Katherine J. Elliott
 
The pace of environmental and socioeconomic change over the past 100 years has been rapid. Changes in fire regimes, climate, and land use have shaped the structure and function of most forest ecosystems, including oak (Quercus spp. L.) forests in the eastern United States. New stressors such as air pollution and invasive species have contributed to and interacted with climate and fire to alter current forest conditions. While changing fire regimes have altered species composition of the current forest, oak regeneration is constrained by many factors that may affect future forests.