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Ecology. 2006 May;87(5):1331-7.

Small-scale fuel variation alters fire intensity and shrub abundance in a pine savanna.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 70803, USA.


Small-scale variation in fire intensity and effects may be an important source of environmental heterogeneity in frequently burned plant communities. We hypothesized that variation in fire intensity resulting from local differences in fuel loads produces heterogeneity in pine savanna ground cover by altering shrub abundance. To test this hypothesis, we experimentally manipulated prefire fuel loads to mimic naturally occurring fuel-load heterogeneity associated with branch falls, needle fall near large pines, and animal disturbances in a frequently burned longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) savanna in Louisiana, USA. We applied one of four fuel treatments (unaltered control, fine-fuel removal, fine-fuel addition, wood addition) to each of 540 (1-m2) quadrats prior to growing-season prescribed fires in each of two years (1999 and 2001). In both years fuel addition increased (and fuel removal decreased) fuel consumption and maximum fire temperatures relative to unaltered controls. Fuel addition, particularly wood, increased damage to shrubs, increased shrub mortality, and decreased resprout density relative to controls. We propose that local variation in fire intensity may contribute to maintenance of high species diversity in pine savannas by reducing shrub abundance and creating openings in an otherwise continuous ground cover.

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