Fuel management considerations in Caribbean pine forests of the mountain pine ridge of Belize, Central America
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Situated within the Maya Mountains of Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR) ecosystem encompasses approximately 76,000ha (107,000 acres) within the country of Belize. Dominated by Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), the MPR is a fire-dependent ecosystem that is currently in transition following a devastating 2001 outbreak of the Southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis). The beetle outbreak was preceded by an era of fire suppression which recruited dense stands of pine with a hardwood understory. Currently the ecosystem is a patchwork of varying forest conditions from open savanna to stands of pine exceeding 7,000 trees per acre (2832 trees per hectare). Threatening the pine regeneration is the buildup of fuels such as dense thickets of tiger fern (Dicranopteris pectinata), which can carry intense fires. In early 2010, thirty nine plots were established within the eastern portion of the MPR to determine the variation in abundance and height of a variety of fuels including major physiognomic plant groups, coarse woody debris, bare mineral soil, and percent cover of litter within designated units of varying times since fire. The fire return interval units were grouped into three separate fire intervals including recent (1-3 years since fire), midrange (4-10 years) and extended (11+ years). Plant physiognomic groups were also evaluated in plots of varying stand densities and canopy coverage. As expected, hardwoods, shrubs, and litter significantly increase in abundance in extended fire intervals. As expected grasses showed a negative correlation with canopy coverage while tiger fern showed a positive correlation. With respect to tiger fern abundance, GIS analysis was conducted to determine if aspect had an effect, however no significant differences were found.