Skip to Main Content
The demise of fire and "mesophication" of forests in the eastern United StatesAuthor(s): Gregory J. Nowacki; Marc D. Abrams
Source: BioScience. 58(2): 123-138.
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
PDF: Download Publication (7.5 MB)
DescriptionA diverse array of fire-adapted plant communities once covered the eastern United States. European settlement greatly altered fire regimes, often increasing fire occurrence (e.g., in northern hardwoods) or substantially decreasing it (e.g., in tallgrass prairies). Notwithstanding these changes, fire suppression policies, beginning around the 1920s, greatly reduced fire throughout the East, with profound ecological consequences. Fire-maintained open lands converted to closed-canopy forests. As a result of shading, shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive plants began to replace heliophytic (sun-loving), fire-tolerant plants. A positive feedback cyclewhich we term "mesophication"ensued, wherebymicroenvironmental conditions (cool, damp, and shaded conditions; less flammable fuel beds) continually improve for shade-tolerant mesophytic species and deteriorate for shade-intolerant, fire-adapted species. Plant communities are undergoing rapid compositional and structural changes, some with no ecological antecedent. Stand-level species richness is declining, and will decline further, as numerous fire-adapted plants are replaced by a limited set of shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive species. As this process continues, the effort and cost required to restore fire-adapted ecosystems escalate rapidly.
- Check the Northern Research Station web site to request a printed copy of this publication.
- Our on-line publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat.
- During the capture process some typographical errors may occur.
- Please contact Sharon Hobrla, email@example.com if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
- We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
- This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
CitationNowacki, Gregory J.; Abrams, Marc D. 2008. The demise of fire and "mesophication" of forests in the eastern United States. BioScience. 58(2): 123-138.
Keywordsfire-adapted species, oak-pine, prescribed burning, forest floor, restoration
- Does homeostasis or disturbance of homeostasis in minimum leaf water potential explain the isohydric versus anisohydric behavior of Vitis vinifera L. cultivars?
- Drought until death do us part: a case study of the desiccation-tolerance of a tropical moist forest seedling-tree, Licania platypus (Hemsl.) Fritsch
- Nonnative Plants in the Inventory of Western Oregon Forests
XML: View XML