Problem: Low-intensity prescribed burning is commonly used to manage oak forests throughout the Midwest, USA. These fires are utilized with the goal of opening the canopy to increase light to the ground layer to increase growth of shade intolerant oaks. The fires are also thought to impact and possibly control some exotic plant species. Although, a plethora of research has been performed on the impacts of these fires on the aboveground ecosystem, very little thought and study has been performed belowground. Specifically, empirical data is lacking on the impacts that prescribed fire has on soil biodiversity and invertebrates. The few studies that have been performed show strong impacts on litter and soil invertebrates. These organisms are very important for forest ecosystem functioning and we need to get a handle on the effects prescribed fire is having on them and other soil properties and processes.
Goals: The goals of this research are to examine prescribed fire and its impacts on: (1) plants, (2) soils, and (3) biodiversity in Midwestern USA oak woodlands. Methods: This research will help fill this knowledge gap by assessing the impact of low-intensity prescribed fire on invertebrates across a fire chronosequence in The Morton Arboretum oak woodlands. The data is analyzed with an extensive database detailing the effects of this specific fire chronosequence on above-ground and below-ground properties and processes. In 2009-2010, litter and soil invertebrate sampling was performed on forty plots in annually-burned, periodically-burned, and un-burned oak woodlands.
Personnel: This research is led by Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch and Marlin Bowles (The Morton Arboretum). Dr. Karel Jacobs (Chicago State U), Brenda Nix (Chicago State U), and Dr. Ray Brand (The Morton Arboretum) are collaborators on the research.
Funding: This research is funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Scharenbroch, B.C., B. Nix, K.A. Jacobs, and M.L. Bowles. 2012. Two decades of low-intensity prescribed fire increases soil nutrient availability in a Midwestern oak (Quercus) forest. Geoderma 183-184:80-91.
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