Background: Many forests within the southern Appalachian region, USA, have experienced decades of fire exclusion, contributing to regeneration challenges for species such as oaks (Quercus spp. L.) and pines (Pinus spp. L.), and threatening the maintenance of oak-dominated forests in the future. While the use of prescribed fire as a forest management tool is increasing within this region, there remains a lack of information on the potential role of wildfire. A wildfire within the Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky, USA, provided an opportunity to investigate how wildfire affected forest vegetation response.

Results: We examined the effects of fire severity, quantified using composite burn index (CBI), on basal area, stem density, and sapling recruitment for several key species. We also examined the effects of fire severity on understory species richness and illuminated the consequence of non-native species invasions following fire. Our results demonstrated a negative relationship between fire severity and basal area (stems ≥ 2 cm diameter at breast height; P ≤ 0.001), and a positive relationship with the recruitment of oak and pine saplings (both P ≤ 0.001), oak sapling density (P = 0.012), and non-woody understory species richness (P ≤ 0.001). We also found that increasing fire severity heightened likelihood of invasion by non-native species, specifically princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa [Thunb.] Siebold & Zucc. ex. Steud; P = 0.009) and Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis Andersson; P = 0.028).

Conclusions: Where it is feasible, public land managers may be able to generate a range of fire severity during future prescribed fires that approximate some characters of wildfire. These fires, when implemented in southern Appalachian upland forests, may help recruit oaks and pines and boost their potential as future canopy dominants. However, the increased occurrence of non-native invasive species invasion following fire conveys the importance of targeted and timely eradication treatments before new populations of non-native species may become established or reproduce, contradicting the ecological benefits of fire.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in Fire Ecology, v. 14, 14, p. 1-12.

© The Author(s). 2018

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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Funding Information

This work was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis project KY009032.

This study was partially funded through a participating agreement with the USDA Forest Service Daniel Boone National Forest (agreement number 15-PA-11080226-005).

Related Content

This is publication number 18–09-023 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.

The datasets generated or analyzed during this study are not publically available due to privacy concerns for study plot locations in close proximity to a popular public recreation area but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.