Temporal changes in fruit production between recurrent prescribed burns in pine woodlands of the Ouachita Mountains
The use of prescribed fire is integral to the restoration of open woodlands and savannas, including shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) woodlands in the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Fire offers many potential benefits to numerous wildlife; however, short-term implications for understory fruit production are not fully understood, especially in stands subjected to frequent, recurrent burns. We examined the effects of dormant season prescribed burns on woody fruit production (kg ha−1) and fruit producing vegetative cover in the understory of restored pine woodlands. We inventoried 32 stands during four temporal periods after dormant season prescribed fires: 1, 2, 3, and 5 growing seasons post-burn. We counted fruit (<2 m above the ground) throughout the summer and visually estimated vegetative cover of fruit producing plants. Fruit production was greatest in the 3rd year (18.2 kg ha−1), followed by 5th (10.9 kg ha−1) and 2nd (9.8 kg ha−1) years after burns. Overall, 87% of total production consisted of three genera: American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana [38%]), Vitis spp. (summer grapes [Vitis aestivalis; 11%] and muscadine grape [V. rotundifolia; 10%]), and Rubus spp. (blackberry [20%] and dewberry [R. flagellaris; 8%]). Production was recorded in 13 of the 14 fruit producing species present during the 5th year post-burn, indicating that production diversity increased over time. Percent cover and species richness (26 taxa) of fruit producing taxa were greatest in the 3rd year post-burn. Taxa such as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and sumac (Rhus spp.) comprised a sizable percent of coverage (>7% each), but this did not translate into substantial fruit production. American beautyberry and summer grape had both substantial coverage and production. Results suggest that burning on a 3-year rotation maximizes and prolongs fruit production; however, occasional burning on a 5-year rotation will promote a higher diversity of woody mast-producing understory species.