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Are limited old-growth overstory systems useful in guiding restoration and conservation management of longleaf pine ecosystems?
Kirkman, Katherine *,1, Mitchell, Robert*,1, 1 Jones Ecological Research Center, Newton, GA, USA
ABSTRACT- Old growth canopies of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) are useful in demonstrating the extreme longevity of the dominant species and in quantification of canopy disturbance patterns due to tropical storms and lightning strikes. However, these rare stands may lack variation in sites and structure that are critical to develop guiding principles for restoration and conservation management of the longleaf ecosystem. Based upon previous research, interactions with practicing land managers, and case studies, we have developed a conceptual approach that involves the use of surrogates that represent three major components of the ecosystem. In concert, these surrogates can predict a diverse and ecologically functional ecosystem. All are linked to critical structural and functional features of the system, as well as previous land management histories. The presence of red-cockaded woodpecker clusters implies the retention of maturing longleaf pine for nesting cavities, as well as an open forest structure that is obtained with frequent prescribed fire. Within its range, the presence of wiregrass (Aristida stricta or A. beyrichiana) suggests an absence of prior root disturbances that result in degraded floristic diversity. The presence of wiregrass also reflects a history of frequent fire necessary for the plant community to exist. The presence of an undisturbed ecotonal area between longleaf pine-wiregrass uplands and depressional wetlands suggest that a high diversity of both plant and amphibians are likely to be present due to the continuity of fire necessary to maintain this dynamic habitat. Larger, or less fragmented woodland tracts often represent the more extensive environmental gradient in which longleaf once occurred and are sufficient in scale to provide habitat for widely ranging wildlife species. Our premise is that functional attributes of the system are more dependent on fire regimes, canopy retention patterns and soil disturbance than the fact that a small stand escaped the ax.
Key words: restoration, old-growth, management