Three centuries of fire in montane pine-oak stands on a temperate forest landscape
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Question: What was the role of fire in montane pineoak (Pinus-Quercus) stands under changing human land uses on a temperate forest landscape in eastern North America? Location: Mill Mountain in the central Appalachian Mountains, Virginia, US. Methods: A dendroecological reconstruction of fire history was generated for four stands dominated by xerophytic pine and oak species. The fire chronology began under presettlement conditions following aboriginal depopulation. Subsequent land uses included European settlement, iron mining, logging, and US Forest Service acquisition and fire protection. Results: Fires occurred approximately every 5 years until 1930 without any evidence of a temporal trend in fire frequency. Burning ceased after 1930. Areawide fires affecting multiple pine stands were common, occurring at intervals of approximately 16 years. Most living pines became established during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Dead pines indicated that an older cohort established ca. 1730. Most hardwoods were established between the 1920s and 1940s. Conclusions: Except for fire protection, changes in land use had no discernible influence on fire frequency. Lightning ignitions and/or large fire extent may have been important for maintaining frequent burning in the 1700s, while fuel recovery may have constrained fire frequency during later periods. The disturbance regime appears to be characterized by frequent surface fires and occasional severe fires, insect outbreaks or other disturbances followed by pine recruitment episodes. Industrial disturbances appear to have had little influence on the pine stands. The greatest impact of industrial society is fire exclusion, which permitted hardwood establishment. 2009 International Association for Vegetation Science.