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Project Summary Sheet

U.S. Geological Survey, Greater Everglades Science Initiative (Place-Based Studies)

Fiscal Year 2003 Project Summary Report

Project Title: Fire Ecology of South Florida Wetlands

Project Start Date: 1996 Project End Date: 2004

Web Sites:

Location (Subregions, Counties, Park or Refuge): Big Cypress National Preserve

Funding Source: USGS's Greater Everglades Science Initiative (PBS); NPS fire science (through Big Cypress National Preserve)

Principal Investigator(s): James R. Snyder

Project Personnel: Curt Schaeffer (Johnson Controls)

Supporting Organizations: National Park Service

Associated / Linked Projects:

Overview & Objective(s): Prescribed fire constitutes one of the most pervasive management actions influencing the restoration and maintenance of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. It is generally assumed that lightning-ignited fires were common at the beginning of the rainy season, but there have probably been human-caused fires at other times for the last several thousand years. Because lighting-ignited fire cannot be allowed to operate naturally in South Florida, prescribed (or management-ignited) fire must be used to maintain these habitats. The seasonal occurrence of fire can have an important influence on ecological responses. We have conducted a set of experimental studies to determine the response of vegetation to different seasons of burning. In Big Cypress National Preserve we have established a long-term study of season and frequency of burning in the unlogged hydric pinelands of the Raccoon Point area. This study includes three seasonal treatments: winter (dry season), spring (early wet season) and summer (mid wet season). A shorter study comparing the response to winter and summer burns was carried out in the pine rocklands on Big Pine Key. We are also studying the effect of season of burning on muhly grass (Muhlenbergia filipes), a component of hydric pinelands and often a dominant in short-hydroperiod wetlands known as muhly or marl prairies. We are conducting field and nursery studies to determine how the season of burning effects the rate of recovery of muhly and its ability to tolerate flooding.

Status: The initial series of seasonal treatments in the long-term study in Big Cypress has been completed and the treatments are continuing as part of the NPS fire management program in order to address frequency of burns and look at response after repeated treatments. In order to complete the initial phase of the project, the initial vegetation conditions will be described in a report and the corrected database archived. The study on Big Pine Key has been completed and the final report and journal publications are in progress. A South Florida slash pine symposium for spring 2004 is being planned with NPS, TNC, and FIU colleagues. The muhly grass study is in progress and data collection will be completed in May 2004.

Recent & Planned Products:

Presentations at meetings:

Snyder, J. R. 2002. South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa) mortality following three seasons of prescribed burning. 45th Symposium of the International Association for Vegetation Science. Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Poster)

Koptur, S., J. R. Snyder, M. Ross, C. Borg, and H. Liu. 2002. Selective grazing by Key Deer after fire changes plant morphology, reproduction, and species composition in pine rockland understory. Annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America, Madison, WI.

Sah, J. P., M. Ross, J. Snyder, S. Koptur, C. Borg, and H. Liu. 2003. Fuel Loads in the Understory of Florida Keys Pine Forests along a Chronosequence of time since Last Fire. Oral Presentation at GEER conference.

Snyder, J. R. 2003. Clipping as a Substitute for Fire to Study Seasonal Fire Effects on Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris var. filipes). Poster Presentation at GEER conference.

Planned: Journal paper on pine mortality, report on initial vegetation of long-term study with database; final report for Big Pine Key study; annual report for muhly study.

Relevance to Greater Everglades Restoration Information Needs: The results will provide data for the modelling of vegetation change and will aid in the development of DOI Fire Ecology Science Action Plan and contribute to USGS restoration goal 2, science objective 1. The muhly study also contributes to the recovery of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow as outlined in DOI ecological community recovery.

Key Findings:

  • Mature pine trees appear to be tolerant of a wide range of burn seasons.
  • Muhly grass is subject to high mortality if fires are followed shortly by flooding.

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