Impacts of increasing fine fuel loads on acorn germination and early growth of oak seedlings

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Background: Prescribed fire is increasingly used to restore and maintain upland oak (Quercus L. spp.) ecosystems in the central and eastern US. However, little is known about how prescribed fire affects recently fallen acorns under different fine fuel loads, which can vary with stand composition and basal area, burn season, and fire frequency. We conducted plot-level (1 m2) burns in an upland oak stand in northern Mississippi, USA, during December 2018, using single (i.e., ambient), double, and triple fine fuel loads, representative of those in nearby unburned and recently fire-treated, closed-canopy stands. Pre burn, we placed 30 acorns each of white oak (Quercus alba L.) and Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii Buckley) ~1 cm below the litter surface in five plots of each fuel treatment. Immediately post burn, we planted unburned and burned acorns in a greenhouse. After ~50% of each species’ unburned acorns germinated, we measured percent germination and height, basal diameter, and leaf number of germinating seedlings weekly for 11 weeks. Then, we harvested seedlings to determine above- and belowground biomass. Results: The single fuel treatment reduced acorn germination rates of both species to ~40% compared to ~88% in unburned acorns. When burned in double and triple fuel loads, acorns of both species had a <5% germination rate. There was no difference in basal diameter, leaf number, or biomass of seedlings from burned versus unburned acorns for either species. However, seedlings originating from burned acorns of both species were ~11% shorter than those from unburned acorns. Thus, both species responded similarly to fuel load treatments. Conclusions: Acorns of both species exhibited greater survival with lower fine fuel loads, and consequently lower percent fuel consumption. Acorns germinating post fire generally produced seedlings with growth patterns similar to seedlings originating from unburned acorns. These findings indicate that regular, repeated prescribed fires or canopy reductions that limit fine fuel accumulation and create heterogeneous fuel beds are likely to increase acorn germination rates relative to unburned sites or those with recently introduced fire.




Nation, R. E., Alexander, H. D., Denny, G., McDaniel, J. K., & Paulson, A. K. (2021). Impacts of increasing fine fuel loads on acorn germination and early growth of oak seedlings. Fire Ecology, 17(1).

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