A study was recently published in the journal of Forest Ecology and Management that looks at prescribed fire use over 60 years. Scientists monitored control, annual burn, and periodic burn plots in an Oak-Hickory stand in Missouri. Results showed that understory species richness was over three times greater in both burn treatments when compared to the control.
Results from this study support our hypothesis that long-term, repeated prescribed burning can be used to reach several objectives related to woodland restoration and management in hardwood ecosystems, including creating a two-layered vertical structure and increasing the abundance, richness, diversity, and evenness of the understory plant community. Although previous studies demonstrated the effects of long-term burning on the structure of pine ecosystems, this study is the first to document similar effects in oak-hickory communities. Silvicultural prescriptions for reaching woodland objectives in hardwood ecosystems often include combinations of thinning and burning to reduce canopy density and increase the herbaceous vegetation response (Peterson et al., 2007; Kinkead et al., 2013; Brose, 2014). Our results suggest that, over long time periods, burning alone can reduce canopy density to create conditions associated with woodlands.