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NWRC Coastal Prairie Research Program

Fire and Coastal Systems

Most coastal ecosystem types, including coastal prairie, marsh, pinelands, and other upland forests, have evolved under conditions of frequent wildfires. Throughout the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain, historic fire frequencies have been estimated to have been once every 1 - 10 years. Because of this history, prescribed burning has come to be widely used as a management tool throughout the region, both to enhance wildlife species and to maintain the natural characteristics of the habitat.

Scientific characterizations of the ecological effects of fire are surprisingly few1. At the same time, there is increasing pressure on regulatory and management agencies to incorporate science into the planning and decision making processes. Because of the information needs of DOI management personnel, as well as others, the USGS has developed a program to develop methods of study and to conduct assessments of fire effects. To date, these studies have examined a variety of topics such as the effects of burning on marsh succession2,3 the relationships between invasive species and fire4,5,6,7 and the response of woody species to burning8.

1Wade, D.D., B.L. Brock, P.H. Brose, J.B. Grace, G.A. Hoch, and W.A. Patterson III. 2000. Chapter 4:53-96 Fire in eastern ecosystems. In: J.K. Brown and J.K. Smith (eds.) Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effects of Fire on Flora. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 2., Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

2Taylor, K.L., J.B. Grace, G.R. Guntenspergen, and A.L. Foote. 1994. The interactive effects of herbivory and fire on an oligohaline marsh, Little Lake, Louisiana, USA. Wetlands 14:82-87.

3Ford, M.F. and J.B. Grace. 1998. The interactive effects of vertebrate herbivory and fire on a coastal marsh in Louisiana, the Pearl River. Wetlands 18:1-8.

4Newman, S., J. Schutte, J.B. Grace, K. Rutchey, T. Fontaine, M. Campbell, M. Pietrucha, and K.R. Reddy. 1998. Factors influencing cattail abundance in the northern Everglades. Aquatic Botany 60:265-280.

5Grace, J.B. 1998. Can prescribed fire save the endangered coastal prairie ecosystem from Chinese tallow invasion? Endangered Species Update 15:70-76. [reprinted in Wildland Weeds, Spring 1999]

6King, S. and J.B. Grace. 2000. The effects of gap size and disturbance type on invasion of wet pine savanna by cogongrass, Imperata cylindrica (Poaceae). American Journal of Botany 87:1279-1286.

7Grace, J.B., M.D. Smith, S.L. Grace, S.L. Collins, and T.J. Stohlgren. 2001. Interactions between fire and invasive plants in temperate grasslands of North America. in K. Galley and T. Wilson (eds.) Fire Conference 2000: The First National Congress on Fire, Ecology, Prevention and Management. Invasive Species Workshop: The Role of Fire in the Control and Spread of Invasive Species. Tallahassee: Tall Timbers Research Station (in press)

8Allain, L.K. and J.B. Grace. 2001. Response of Baccharis halimifolia to fire in coastal tallgrass prairie. Proceedings of The North American Prairie Conference (in press).

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