Fuel composition influences fire characteristics and understorey hardwoods in pine savanna


Correspondence author. Email: dellai1@lsu.edu


  1. Fuels in the groundcover of frequently burned south-eastern pine savannas include shed leaves of trees. Flammable needles of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) potentially increase maximum fire temperatures and durations of heating, negatively affecting other trees within the groundcover. Less flammable leaves that accumulate around the bases of understorey stems of hardwood trees such as mockernut hickories (Carya alba) in the fall potentially depress maximum fire temperatures and durations of heating, enhancing post-fire recovery.
  2. We experimentally manipulated amounts of pine and hickory leaves beneath understorey hickory stems in a pine savanna, measured temperatures during prescribed fires and assessed combustion of fuels and survival and regrowth of hickory stems.
  3. Pine needles increased fire temperatures and durations of heating relative to herbaceous fuels and increased combustion of hickory leaves. Hickory leaves, however, neither increased nor decreased fire characteristics relative to herbaceous fuels.
  4. All hickories survived fire by resprouting. When pine needles were absent, most hickories resprouted from buds located above-ground along the stem at heights inversely related to temperature increase. In contrast, resprouting occurred only from underground root crowns when pine needles were present. Such differences in locations of resprouts influenced sizes of stems at the end of the growing season.
  5. Synthesis. Groundcover fuels containing flammable leaves shed by pyrogenic species of savanna trees affect local fire characteristics and resprouting of non-pyrogenic understorey trees. Thus, local variation in flammable fuels produced by pyrogenic species can engineer landscape dynamics of other trees in savannas.