Temporal patterns of ground flora response to fire in thinned Pinus-Quercus stands
The ground flora stratum affects stand structure, resource acquisition, nutrient cycling, and taxonomic richness in forest ecosystems. Disturbances such as thinning and prescribed fire alter forest understory growing conditions that generally increase ground flora cover and richness. We studied annual changes in ground flora assemblages over three growing seasons after fire in thinned and frequently burned (3-year rotation) Pinus-Quercus stands. Our results corroborated trends from other studies that indicated greater ground flora richness and cover after thinning and burning compared with thin-only treatments. We also found that the stratum experienced relatively rapid succession between growing seasons that complimented the tolerance succession model. Forbs had reduced cover and richness from increasingly difficult growing conditions over time and were replaced by woody plants, shrubs, and seedlings. This likely occurred from changing competition dynamics that favored quick growth in the first growing season and long-term investment in vertical growth in the third growing season. The successful regeneration pathways also fit ground flora regeneration models and added a unique pathway to strengthen the predictive power of these models. As many stand management goals are focused towards improving biodiversity, prescribed fire and thinning may be used to increase understory richness in Pinus-Quercus stands.