In forests historically maintained by frequent fire, reintroducing fire after decades of exclusion often causes widespread overstory mortality. To better understand this phenomenon. we subjected 16 fire-excluded (ca. 40 years since fire) 10-ha longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) stands to one of four replicated burning treatments based on volumetric duff moisture content (VDMC): wet (115 percent VDMC): moist (85 percent VDMC); dry (55 percent VDMC); and a no-burn control. During the first 2 years postfire, overstory pines in the dry burns suffered the greatest mortality (mean 20.5 percent); pine mortality in the wet and moist treatments did not differ from the control treatment. Duff reduction was greatest in the dry burns (mean 46.5 percent), with minimal reduction in the moist and wet burns (14.5 and 5 percent, respectively). Nested logistic regression using trees from all treatments revealed that the best predictors of individual pine mortality were duff consumption and crown scorch (P < 0.001; R2 = 0.34). Crown scorch was significant only in dry burns, whereas duff consumption was significant across all treatments. Duff consumption was related to moisture content in lower duff (Oa; R2 = 0.78, P < 0.001). Restoring fire to long-unburned forests will require development of burn prescriptions that include the effects of duff consumption, an often overlooked fire effect.
Varner, J.M., III; Hiers, J.K.; Ottmar, R.D.; Gordon, D.R.; Putz, F.E.; Wade, D.D. 2007. Overstory tree mortality resulting from reintroducing fire to long-unburned longleaf poine forests: the importance of duff moisture. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 37: 1349-1358