Logging May Serve as an Ecological Substitute for the Effects of Fire

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Castanea on behalf of Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. Logging is typically associated with destruction and reduced diversity rather than ecosystem restoration.

Logging is typically associated with destruction and reduced diversity rather than ecosystem restoration. However, logging may serve as a substitute for the positive effects of natural disturbances such as fire. When safety or economic policies restrict the use of prescribed burning, logging could offer an alternative.

The current issue of the journal Castanea reports the two- and five-year results of restoration treatments on south-central Florida shrubland. Researchers evaluated the effects of logging and fire, both individually and in combination, on Lake Wales Ridge scrub.

Fire, once a natural part of the health of this shrubland ecosystem, is now suppressed. Conservation biology calls for the restoration of natural disturbance regimes, but there are often factors that prohibit the reintroduction of fire. Logging may help achieve some of the same objectives.

In the Florida scrub, the goals of restoration include reducing the canopy of pine and hardwood that develop in the absence of fire. This helps to increase bare sand, rare plants, and forb diversity, contributing to the health of this ecosystem. The endangered Florida scrub-jay makes its home in scrubland less than 3 meters tall, and patches of bare sand create microhabitat for gopher tortoises, scrub lizards, and many arthropods.

On the other hand, harvests of sand pine, used to make pulp and paper, are part of a multimillion dollar industry in Florida. Privately owned and public lands managed by state and federal agencies have natural and planted pinelands that are harvested to supply this industry. Economically, logging has more to offer than burning.

In this study, both burning and logging successfully reduced the density of pine and the subcanopy of hardwood. While prescribed burning by itself exposed sandy substrate, logging treatments left larger areas of bare sand. Although neither treatment had much effect on increasing the variety of plant species or number of rare species, two rare species started to grow on logged plots of land.

Both logging and fire treatments met short-term land management goals in this study. However, logging creates a greater soil disturbance that could promote the invasion of exotic species, producing unintended long-term consequences. The authors conclude that while fire offers the best tool for management of the Florida shrubland, logging will continue to be used for restoration and maintenance in this area.

Full text of the article, “Logging as a Pretreatment or Surrogate for Fire in Restoring Florida Scrub,” Castanea, Vol. 78, No. 1, March 2013, is available at http://www.castaneajournal.org/.


About Castanea
Castanea is the journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society and publishes articles relating to all aspects of botany in the entire eastern United States and adjoining areas. The Southern Appalachians—the nonglaciated mountainous areas of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and southwestern New York—form an evolutionary center for native plant diversity for the northern temperate regions of the world. The society dates to 1935 and serves all persons interested in the botany of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The journal encourages submissions of scientific papers dealing with basic research in any field of plant biology, systematics, floristics, ecology, physiology, and biochemistry. For more information about the journal or society, please visit: http://www.sabs.appstate.edu.

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Taylor Fulton
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